Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Vernellia Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

Article Index

Demographic and Case Characteristics

In this section we discuss key quantitative findings on geographic distribution of cases, women's age, stage of pregnancy, mental health status, socioeconomic status, and race (see table 1). We also briefly discuss our findings on men and domestic violence in the women's lives.

We identified state actions taken against 413 women in forty-four states, the District of Columbia, and some federal jurisdictions between 1973 and 2005 (see figure 1). The largest percentage of cases originated in the South (56 percent), followed by the Midwest (22 percent), the Pacific and West (15 percent), and the Northeast (7 The cases took place in every state except Delaware, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. Ten states had ten or more cases. Those ten states also accounted for more than two-thirds of the total number of cases. South Carolina had the largest number of cases (n = 93), followed by Florida (n = 56), Missouri (n = 29), Georgia (n = 16), Tennessee (n = 15), Wisconsin (n = 15), Illinois (n = 14), Nevada (n = 11), New York (n = 11), and Texas (n = 10).

Figure 1 Number of Arrests, Detentions, and Forced Interventions of Pregnant Women in the United States (1973-2005) (Omitted)

In individual states, cases tend to cluster in particular counties and sometimes in particular hospitals. For example, in South Carolina thirty-four of the ninety-three cases came from the contiguous counties of Charleston and Berkeley. Staff at one hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina, initiated thirty of these cases. In Florida twenty-five of the fifty-five cases took place in Escambia County. Of these, twentythree came from just two hospitals: Sacred Heart Hospital and Baptist Hospital. In Missouri twenty-six of the twenty-nine cases came from Jackson County. Of these, twenty cases came from a single hospital: Truman Medical Center.

Overwhelmingly, and regardless of race, women in our study were economically disadvantaged, indicated by the fact that 71 percent qualified for indigent defense. Of the 368 women for whom information on race was available, 59 percent were women of color, including African Americans, Hispanic American/Latinas, Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders; 52 percent were African American. African American women in particular are overrepresented in our study, but this is especially true in the South (see table 2). Nearly three-fourths of cases brought against African Americans originated in the South, compared with only half of the cases involving white women. Racial disparities are even more pronounced in particular states. Between 1973 and 2005 African Americans in Florida made up approximately 15 percent of the state's population and whites composed 81 percent. Yet approximately three-fourths of Florida's cases were brought against African American women, while only 22 percent were brought against white women. In South Carolina, African Americans made up 30 percent of the state's population, and 68 percent of the population base was white. Yet 74 percent of the cases in the state were brought against African American women and only 25 percent against white women.

We were able to determine the age of the women at the time of their arrest, detention, or forced intervention in approximately 91 percent of the cases. Women in the study range from twelve to forty-three years of age; the average (and median) age was approximately twenty-eight years. We identified two cases involving minors.

One out of five women was still pregnant at the time legal action was taken. In some cases action was taken against a woman early in her pregnancy, when the fetus would not have been viable. In twenty-five cases we found explicit references to a mental health diagnosis, a history of mental health problems, or treatment for mental health problems. Although every pregnancy in this study involved a man, the father or the woman's male partner was mentioned in only 23 percent of cases. Information available in approximately one in ten cases (n = 36) mentioned violence against the pregnant woman.

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