A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Crimes of the Uterus: Imprisonment and Death in the US



I sit here taking deep breaths, swallowing, my chest tight, trying to write how I feel about what I’m about to tell you, but I find I don’t have words that truly convey the horror. That and the sense of standing on the precipice of change that will either truly liberate us as a species or destroy us altogether. I will say this: I’m ready to fight–to really, truly fight–and I’m wide open to ideas.

This week* RH Reality Check released the results of a study that confirmed a terrifying trend many of us have feared for some time: that women are being arrested and imprisoned for “crimes” such as having a miscarriage, delivering a stillborn child, planning to have an abortion, or declining a test recommended by their doctor.

Yes, you heard right. From RH Reality Check:

A woman in Oregon who did not comply with a doctor’s recommendation to have additional testing for gestational diabetes was subjected to involuntary civil commitment. During her detention, the additional testing was never performed.

And that’s not the worst thing. Not by far.

After a hearing that lasted less than a day, a court issued an order requiring a critically-ill pregnant woman in Washington, D.C. to undergo cesarean surgery over her objections. Neither she nor her baby survived.

I'm awake.

I’m awake.

People, it’s time to get serious. We’ve long known that in some people’s eyes, women are for sexing men and making babies, and now–in 20motherfucking13–it’s down to no birth control, no abortions, and you’d damned well better deliver a living child. I don’t know about you, but I feel as though I’m living in a work of dark future fiction. The world this trend implies is not the world I want for any woman on the planet, much less my daughter, my future granddaughters, or anyone I love.

What will we do to fight it? How far will we go? I know I’ll write my ass off, but that’s not enough anymore, is it? Because ANY level of complacency in the face of this information would be, for me personally, complicity.

And I will not comply.


*It turns out this report was published in January. I was apparently so upset I didn’t notice. Not sure it took until yesterday for the story to reach me, but I certainly was not aware of this, and from the reaction here and elsewhere, I get the impression others weren’t, either.

Here’s a link to the abstract of the study’s findings as published by Duke University Press Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. The right-hand sidebar has a link to the full article.

Aaaand, it turns out the UN Human Rights Council just released their 2013 “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” According to Social Justice Solutions, the main takeaway with regard to reproductive health is “the concept that limiting or entirely denying access to abortions or other reproductive rights is a form of torture.”


Life Sentences
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.

20 responses

  1. The “birthiers” have now been reduced to an object that produces yet another product for Americans to consume.
    Its sad that womanhood continues to take a beating in spite of the year being 2013.
    Thank you for posting.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:59 am

  2. Melanie

    I don’t know what to say. I do know, I don’t like this. 20motherfucking13, indeed. Geez. What the hell? Why the hell is a human not allowed to make decisions for themselves just because said human has a vagina?

    April 1, 2013 at 7:45 am

  3. Watching all your comments come in has filled me with so much emotion. Thank you all for your solidarity and your stories. I’m thinking hard about what to do next. Let me know if you come up with any ideas.

    April 1, 2013 at 7:19 am

  4. Even what seems like routine childbirth these days can be a terrifying experience. I planned a homebirth but ended up going to the hospital where I was pressured into staying. I had done so much research that I knew what to expect– the doctor came to break my water, told me she was going to insert a fetal monitor into my vagina that would screw into the child’s head. I wouldn’t be able to move. I was pressured to take pitocin to force my contractions. I refused, and fought them over it. It got to the point where I left the hospital room and was wandering in a dark, empty hallway somewhere in the hospital to keep them from finding me. It seems overdramatic in retrospect, but at the time I felt like I was fighting for my dignity and my survival. Women experience births like this every day. A lot of people are okay with it. I wasn’t. All I could think was that I had to stay away from the doctors long enough for my labor to help me give birth to my baby without a C-section. I felt so vulnerable there. Like if I wasn’t progressing quickly enough I’d be carted to the operating room.

    I used to love the idea of childbirth. I love children, but I’m terrified to get pregnant again. I have friends who have given birth at home unassisted just to keep their dignity. They do that at the risk of having their children taken away and being thrown into jail for child endangerment.

    April 1, 2013 at 6:30 am

  5. Rosie, you should send a link of this story to Josh Mandel. Back in the early ’90’s, Josh told me about an idea he had for a TV show, called “Prenatal Police.” It would be about a special police unit that investigates crimes against the unborn, mostly by their mothers. The crimes ranged from trying to terminate a pregnancy to eating junk food or smoking a cigarette while pregnant. I told Josh that I thought it was a good idea, that it would make for some funny (if grim) social satire. He told me “Oh, it’s not meant to be funny. It’s dark social satire. Or maybe social horror.”
    I never thought I’d live to see the day that “Prenatal Police” became a reality. Why is our country going backwards instead of forwards???

    April 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

  6. I just finished watching season 1 of The Newsroom, and in one of the shows, Jeff Daniels’s character makes a disconcerting comparison between the Tea Party and the Taliban, especially concerning women and what we are allowed to do with our bodies. Maybe it’s a little extreme to take the comparison that far, but it certainly made me think. I’ve been outraged for years as I’ve seen things start to take this direction, and I feel like it’s only getting worse and weirder to be a woman in this day and age.

    I wish I had the solution, but until then, at least you know you have my support. Keep speaking out!

    March 31, 2013 at 7:39 pm

  7. I am 50 years old and have decided that I don’t want unnecessary tests performed on me. My doctor is aware of my feelings and why, yet once she had to keep computerized records she has to have another doctor witness my refusal for certain tests I don’t want to have to protect herself. I am sure it won’t be long until I am required to undergo these tests (check up type, not tests required due to an illness) or lose my insurance. I will lose my insurance first before I cave to letting the government tell me how to care for my own body.

    March 31, 2013 at 6:44 pm

  8. You know, it seems really scary right now, but all I can hope is that the old saying, “it gets worse before it gets better” truly applies here.

    March 31, 2013 at 6:40 pm

  9. wow this is like the dark ages….Just with wifi and more crazies flocking to speak the national language of “stupid” on the internet -.-…Some “free” country we have when things like this still happen….How??….

    March 31, 2013 at 5:59 pm

  10. I’m a man ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and fight for what is right. When I first started to read this post, I assumed it was referring to a third world country. Pardon my ignorance. I will continue to post on what I term Counter-Patriarchal Compassion. Let me know what else I can do. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

    March 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm

  11. I am ready and willing to fight along side you.

    March 31, 2013 at 4:15 pm

  12. In 33 states pregnant woman in prison are routinely shackled during doctors appointments and while giving birth (especially undocumented immigrants) and 100s of thousands of black women have had forced sterilization. Now the patriarchs are putting women into prison for being poor and pregnant and killing them!?! These are dark times. Sunshine is the greatest antiseptic.

    March 31, 2013 at 3:16 pm

  13. Actually, you know it sounds like the Handmaid’s Tale…. Maybe Atwood had something…

    March 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm

  14. Unfortunately many people will not believe it to be happening, as like always… The government is their friend who loves them and will only every protect them!! And yada yada yada…
    We have problems with Social Services here taking babies & young children away from poorer families, usually fitting the blond, blue eyed variety… These children are easier to get adopted, therefore they get bonuses for filling quotas..
    Sounds like a conspiracy theory, I wouldn’t have believed it.. But there’re many stories of it, some even getting into the mainstream media… Though quickly sidelined by what some celebrity is doing this week..

    March 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm

  15. I remember going with someone back in the 60’s to get an illegal abortion in the back streets of Miami where the doctor was from another country and couldn’t legally practice medicine in the US. I remember the fear and anxiety of the person I was with as well as myself hoping this would be OK and praying that it would. Luckily it was OK. But I do not want my daughters or their daughters or any young women who have come to expect birth control and legal abortions to ever be subjected to what women went through back then. I also recall my mother helping our next door neighbor get to a hospital after she had used a wire coat hanger on herself to abort a child after she had been sexually assaulted. What is being done will be fine for women of means who have the ability to get on a plane and go somewhere else to receive an abortion that is legal almost everywhere else in the modern world. It is the rest of us who are not people of means who will be most affected by these draconian laws that are being passed. We are not being treated as people but rather as vessels for procreation. It is unbelievable that we are back to being chattel after all the gains we have made. We can no longer just wish that other people would stand up for us. We have to do it for ourselves. If our men don’t back us up on this, then maybe we should be with someone else. Think of the nightmare that is ahead if we don’t fight and vote to remove these cretins who hold our lives in their hands from public office. Women must unite and fight.

    March 31, 2013 at 1:14 pm

  16. Wow, this is astonishing! I wish, though, as sickening as this is, that I was at least a little bit surprised. I’m almost as sad that I’m starting to get used to this sort of treatment for women, as I am about women actually being imprisoned and subjected to forced medical procedures… almost. This is nothing short of disgusting and so many people don’t seem to care enough because they don’t seem to believe that it affects them directly. I actually know these people. I know a man who, when his woman was appalled at how women’s reproductive rights are being treated, said, “why do you care, it doesn’t affect you.” If your a woman, or a person who loves and respects a woman, it affects you!

    I mean, even as a person making the choice not to engage in reproduction, this directly affects me because I’m a woman, my sisters, aunts, and mother are women, my best friend is a woman. This affects us all. I just wish more people were willing to stand up and do something about it.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:49 pm

  17. I’m as sickened by this as you are. And angry. I, too, feared this day would come, when “personhood” laws and such would make it possible for women to be imprisoned or subjected to brutalities like a forced C-section when their only “crime” was getting pregnant — and trying to carry the baby! Yes, a woman with gestational diabetes should take good care of herself, but imprisoning her and not giving her proper care is hypocritical at best, malpractice at worst. We must stand up and fight against this. The lives of women — and, in many cases, their unborn children — are at stake. Who could possibly believe any of this is compassionate, just or humane. I stand with you in this fight.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:00 pm

  18. craftspagan

    I will fight to my dying breath. I am not, nor will my nieces be chattel or cattle. In my late twenties I stood every night for weeks on the Idaho capital steps until the governor refused to sign a highly repressive abortion bill. I am ready to do so again. And go farther to assure my nieces and cousins the freedom they deserve.

    March 31, 2013 at 11:35 am

  19. JackieP

    Reblogged this on To Breathe is to Write and commented:
    Women (and men who love women) It is time for us to stand up for ourselves and our girls!!! If we don’t we lose more then ourselves. We lose freedom! We are the new revolution! We will NOT comply! I am usually not very outspoken in my beliefs. This time I can’t stay silent any longer. Women are losing the battle to be called individuals and just plain people who matter. We have got to stop then trend in our politics and in our thinking before women are turned into nothing but cattle that can not make a single decision on their own!

    March 31, 2013 at 11:27 am

  20. JackieP

    It is a truly frightening future. I will fight this also any way I can. Let the revolution begin! I will NOT comply!

    March 31, 2013 at 11:22 am

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