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Our Bodies, Our Crimes

The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America

Jeanne Flavin

Publication Year: 2009

Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociological Association; Sex and Gender Section

The Real Issue behind the Abortion Debate
An op-ed by Jeanne Flavin in the San Francisco Chronicle

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The intense policing of women's reproductive capacity places women's health and human rights in great peril. Poor women are pressured to undergo sterilization. Women addicted to illicit drugs risk arrest for carrying their pregnancies to term. Courts, child welfare, and law enforcement agencies fail to recognize the efforts of battered and incarcerated women to care for their children. Pregnant inmates are subject to inhumane practices such as shackling during labor and poor prenatal care. And decades after Roe, the criminalization of certain procedures and regulation of abortion providers still obstruct women’s access to safe and private abortions.

In this important work, Jeanne Flavin looks beyond abortion to document how the law and the criminal justice system police women’s rights to conceive, to be pregnant, and to raise their children. Through vivid and disturbing case studies, Flavin shows how the state seeks to establish what a "good woman" and "fit mother" should look like and whose reproduction is valued. With a stirring conclusion that calls for broad-based measures that strengthen women’s economic position , choice-making, autonomy, sexual freedom, and health care, Our Bodies, Our Crimes is a battle cry for all women in their fight to be fully recognized as human beings. At its heart, this book is about the right of a woman to be a healthy and valued member of society independent of how or whether she reproduces.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. 1-7

Like many people, I was slow to recognize reproductive rights as such. When I was about 8 years old, I sat down at the kitchen table in my working-class home in rural Kansas and wrote a letter to my state senator, Bob Dole, urging him to oppose abortion because it involved killing...

Part I: Beginning

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pp. 9

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1. “Race Criminals”: Reproductive Rights in America

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pp. 11-25

To illustrate more than 200 years of reproductive rights history in the United States, one might imagine drawing a line that begins when abortion was a widely deplored crime. Our line would then move steadily up and on to the 1960s when women’s sexual liberation gained more...

Part II: Begetting

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pp. 27

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2. “Breeders”: The Right to Procreate

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pp. 29-50

In 2004, Monroe County (NY) Family Court Judge Marilyn O’Connor singled out a woman, Stephanie Pendleton, for having “neglected her responsibilities as a mother” by using cocaine while she was pregnant.1 At the trial, a representative of Monroe County Department of Health...

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3. “Back-Alley Butchers”: Terminating Pregnancies

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pp. 51-73

On January 28, 2000, Barbara Gaddy was admitted to a New York county jail on drug charges; she was about eight weeks pregnant.2 Barbara wanted to terminate her pregnancy. For four weeks, county jail officials refused her request for an abortion and repeatedly harassed and...

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4. “Baby-Killers”: Neonaticide and Infant Abandonment

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pp. 74-92

Of the 4 million women who give birth each year in the United States, a tiny fraction of a percent will abandon or kill their newborns. Though probably only a couple hundred in number, these cases are disturbing for a host of reasons. Many represent everything that is wrong with...

Part III: Bearing

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pp. 93

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5. “Innocent Preborn Victims”: Fetal Protectionism and Pregnant Women

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pp. 95-118

In 2004, Oklahoma woman Theresa Lee Hernandez delivered a stillborn son at 32 weeks gestation who tested positive for methamphetamine. The Oklahoma prosecutor charged Theresa with first-degree murder, and she was incarcerated for three years before being...

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6. “Liars and Whiners”: Incarcerated Women’s Right to Reproductive Health

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pp. 119-135

Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers mirror the failure of social policies in the free world. Some of the most socially vulnerable and marginalized members of society are held behind bars, completely dependent on the institution to provide them with the basic necessities...

Part IV: Mothering

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pp. 137

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7. “Bad Mothers”: Incarcerated Women’s Ties to Their Children

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pp. 139-163

Most of the nation’s 200,000 incarcerated women are mothers of children who are under the age of 18. Prior to being incarcerated, most women lived with their children.1 During incarceration, most children of incarcerated women live with a female relative.2 ...

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8. “Asking for It”: Battered Women and Child Custody

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pp. 164-181

In 1999, Jessica Gonzales obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband, Simon, who had a history of abusive and erratic behavior. The order barred him from contact with her and their three young daughters, ages 7, 9, and 10, and stipulated that the police were to arrest...

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Conclusion: Being

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pp. 182-190

The impact of the state’s policing of reproduction affects every woman, including women who will never see the inside of a patrol car, courtroom, or cell. But the failure to ensure reproductive justice lands hardest on the most vulnerable members of society. ...


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pp. 191-261


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pp. 263-296


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pp. 297-298


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pp. 299-306

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About the Author

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pp. 307

Jeanne Flavin is Associate Professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She also serves on the board of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Jeanne is the recipient of a 2008–2009 Fulbright award. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814728550
E-ISBN-10: 0814728553
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814727546
Print-ISBN-10: 0814727549

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Children of women prisoners -- United States.
  • Women prisoners -- Health and hygiene -- United States.
  • Women prisoners -- Family relationships -- United States.
  • Reproductive rights -- United States.
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