September 19, 2023
In 2013, Pregnancy Justice published the first comprehensive national documentation effort capturing pregnancy-related arrests and deprivations of liberty. The 2013 study identified 413 reported cases from 1973 through 2005, arising out of 44 states and the District of Columbia, and involving a range of pregnancy outcomes including abortions, live births, miscarriages, and stillbirths. Overwhelmingly, the cases occurred despite a lack of legal authority, in defiance of numerous and significant appellate court decisions dismissing or overturning such actions, and contrary to the extraordinary consensus across the medical community that prosecution undermines rather than improves maternal, fetal, and child health. In 86% of these cases, pregnant people faced prosecution through the use of existing criminal statutes intended for other purposes.This report begins where the first study left off, documenting cases of pregnancy criminalization from January 2006 until the Dobbs ruling in June 2022. What we found was deeply concerning. Over these 16.5 years, we identified 1,396 cases. In other words, of the 1,800 pregnancy criminalization cases that took place over the last half century, over three-quarters occurred after 2005. Through an alarming combination of carceral approaches to substance use and the spread of fetal personhood laws, state actors have increasingly penalized pregnant people. Understanding this disturbing phenomenon—including who is most affected, how, and under what pretense—will be essential to fighting for pregnant people's liberties as we enter the post-Dobbs era.