Policing Women to Protect Fetuses: Coercive Interventions During Pregnancy

  • Debra A. DeBruinEmail author
  • Mary Faith Marshall
Part of the Library of Public Policy and Public Administration book series (LPPP, volume 12)


Women are routinely subjected to penetrating surveillance during pregnancy. On the surface, this may appear to flow from a cultural commitment to protect babies – a cultural practice of “better safe than sorry” that is particularly vigilant given the vulnerability of fetuses and babies. In reality, pregnancy occasions incursions against human rights and well-being that would be anathema in other contexts. Our cultural practices concerning risk in pregnancy are infused with oppressive norms about women’s responsibility for pregnancy outcomes and the demands of extreme self-sacrifice from women to protect their fetuses. Of particular concern is our culture’s willingness to enforce norms concerning risk during pregnancy using coercive measures including forced cesarean sections and criminal penalties for exposing fetuses to risk. This chapter will consider assaults on self-determination, bodily integrity and privacy inherent in such interventions, as well as the structural violence and “mangled pieties” (Wallace DF. Authority and American usage. In: Consider the lobster and other essays. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2006, 114) that buttress such practices in our unjust society.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for BioethicsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Center for Biomedical Ethics and HumanitiesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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