Personhood In The Womb: A Constitutional Question


Should a pregnant woman whose behavior has been deemed dangerous to her fetus be legally punished or forced into medical procedures against her will? A study released earlier this year found hundreds of cases across the country where pregnant women were arrested and incarcerated, detained in mental institutions and drug treatment programs, or subject to forced medical interventions, including surgery.

The study, conducted by the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, found 413 criminal and civil cases where law enforcement intervened in the lives of pregnant women between 1973 — the year the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade — and 2005.

Fresh Air's Terry Gross speaks with the group's executive director, Lynn Paltrow, who says the legal claims used to justify some of these actions rely on the same arguments that are made in support of personhood measures that would grant the fetus full constitutional rights independent of the pregnant woman. Gross also speaks with Jennifer Mason of Personhood USA, a leader in the personhood movement.

And she speaks with Dr. Barbara Levy, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' vice president for health policy, about related medical issues.

Terry Gross, doing what she does best—asking all three sides of this debate direct questions that get direct answers.