Holding pregnant women to a dangerous and unattainable standard

I have a new column at RH Reality Check where I’ll be posting every other week. My first column was appropriately published today, the same day that Bei Bei Shuai was released from jail.

Bei Bei hugging family upon being released from jail
Photo via National Advocates for Pregnant Women

Bei Bei Shuai is finally out of jail after 435 days. In case you don’t remember her case, the details are here.

The not-so-good news is that the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal asking them to drop all the charges, which means she will likely have to go to trial.

My column focuses on how Bei Bei’s case is just one piece of a much larger and really dangerous trend: holding pregnant women accountable for guaranteeing a healthy pregnancy outcome.

As a society we have absorbed the myth that the right doctor and the right use of modern medicine can circumvent illness and death in pregnancy and birth. Some of the blame for this myth falls on doctors and the medical industry. Although new technologies, particularly developments in neonatal medicine, have significantly improved chances of survival for newborns, we still cannot guarantee a healthy pregnancy and birth outcome for every pregnancy.

But these expectations don’t stop with providers — they’ve now extended to women themselves, who do not have the support of insurers, or employers, to protect them when they fail to live up to these expectations. We also believe the myth that pregnant women can guarantee a healthy birth outcome.

If doctors are expected to perform heroic acts to save the lives of newborns, women are expected to do even more to make the impossible possible — often expected to put their own life and well-being on the line.

And the punishment for not achieving perfection in pregnancy and birth goes way beyond a lawsuit, a multi-million dollar settlement, or even the loss of employment. Increasingly, the punishment is imprisonment.

Read the whole thing here.


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