Pregnancy has become a spectator sport in this country today. We are fascinated by and fixated on pregnant women. We scan magazine spreads for famous actresses’ bumps and speculate on whether or not the Duchess of Windsor is pregnant. (The whole world cannot help but know by this time that yes, she is.) Strangers ask us what we’re having, as if somehow connected to the reproductive process. People we meet for the first time reach out to touch our private body with a gesture that has–through this public feeding frenzy that is a woman’s pregnancy–somehow become permissible. It’s a strange world we live in. But it’s even stranger and often disturbing for women who are pregnant.
Parallel to this very public watch of pregnancy has grown an equally intrusive and even more concerning focus on the fetus. Yes, the fetus. Not yet a child and already we are seeing a preoccupation with its rights over those of the pregnant woman. Just last week, a pregnant woman in Texas was slapped with a “DUI-Child Endangerment” when her BA level was less than the half the legal limit. Most of us are also familiar with the case of Bei-Bei Shuai who out of desperation, wondering how she would survive after her partner left her, attempted suicide. Shuai, pregnant at the time, was charged with attempted feticide and murder in spite of her insistence that she had no desire to hurt the baby. I think it’s worth nothing that in both of these cases, the women of question are women of color. But these are not isolated incidents. An article published in Mother Jones recently found similar examples with the majority of the cases involving women of color and lower income women.
I drank very little alcohol when we were trying to get pregnant. When we were pregnant, I had sips of my husband’s wine or beer after my ob/gyn told me that it wouldn’t be an issue. It wasn’t. And ever since I roused myself out of my childbirth recovery haze, I do drink the occasional glass of wine or beer. Judging a woman who drinks the occasional glass of wine or buys a bottle of vodka at an ABC Store is not very different than the above examples. But I recognize there I’m speaking from a point of privilege compared to Bei-Bei and other women. As a white middle class woman, I’m not subject to the same scrutiny as women of color or lower income women. If I were charged with a DUI for child endangerment when I was pregnant, I would hire a lawyer to fight it. I have the time and resources to do so. Many others do not.
With the public fixation on pregnancy, this policing (masquerading as “protecting”) of the fetus is to be expected. Expected and then…accepted? I hope not. Expected or not, it’s still pretty creepy. In my mind being charged with a crime related to fetus endangerment reminds me of A Handmaid’s Tale, the fictitious novel by Margaret Atwood that feels frighteningly closer to reality as we continue to see a regression of women’s rights. Unchecked, this policing of women’s bodies will continue. What this means is that those of us who do have greater privilege must speak out, loudly and often, for those whose rights are infringed upon. The surveillance will extend beyond women of color and lower income women to others like me (and perhaps you) as well. We are all in this together. We need to speak up on behalf of others not because we might be targeted next but because it’s the right thing to do.
What do you think? Have you noticed anything like this in your own life? Leave a comment!
Note: I am not the only one writing about this recently! For more on the idea of “personhood” (the concept that the fetus is a separate person than the pregnant woman), check out this recent post on Feministing. And, Tracy Cassels at Evolutionary Parenting also wrote a terrific piece on the criminalization of pregnancy that you can read here.