Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women's Reproduction in America

Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women's Reproduction in America

Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women's Reproduction in America

Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women's Reproduction in America


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.


I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you
could—if that were your sole purpose—you could abort every black
baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.

—William Bennett, former Secretary of Education,
responding to a caller on his radio show, September 29, 2005

The blind conviction that we have to do something about other
people's reproductive behaviour, and that we may have to do it
whether they like it or not, derives from the assumption that the
world belongs to us, who have so expertly depleted its resources,
rather than to them, who have not.

—Germaine Greer, Sex and Destiny, 1984

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 an unborn baby. I wrote with the moral certainty that a lot of children have at that age, supported by loving and devout Catholic parents and catechism teachers who reminded me at regular intervals that “Abortion is murder” and “Women who don't take responsibility for their mistakes are just looking for an easy way out.”

A few years later, I discovered that a local teenager was pregnant—and defiant. She did not marry her baby's father, and she insisted on attending high school in spite of objections from some of the locals. I could imagine that raising a baby as a single teenage mother wasn't easy, but I wondered, even then, whether it needed to be so hard. After I left home, and went off to college, I had friends who faced tough decisions about whether or not to . . .

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