Lourdes Rivera President of Pregnancy Justice

By V.S. Santoni

Pregnancy Justice released their report on the Criminalization of Pregnant People. Lourdes Rivera, President of Pregnancy Justice joined the organization in 2023 because she wanted to “dismantle the harmful and punitive systems and practices that criminalize people based on gender, race, and class.” She additionally noted that the purpose of Pregnancy Justice is to “to ensure that no one loses their rights because of pregnancy or because of their capacity for pregnancy.”

The last report was completed in 2006, and Rivera notes that in the 16.5 years they’ve found “nearly 1,400 cases of criminalization of pregnant people. That is more than a threefold increase from our previous report, which covered a shorter time span.” They further found that in 2006, Black women were most likely to be impacted by laws criminalizing pregnancy, but since, “poor white people are the most criminalized group of pregnant people. The main driver of this is the opioid drug crisis,” says Rivera. Specifically singling out the war on drugs that has historically impacted the Black community, the increased opioid crisis has led to more and more White women being criminalized for testing positive for opiates. 

Particularly disturbing, Rivera notes that “We should all be extremely concerned about the criminalization of pregnant people — especially in Tennessee. Tennessee makes up nearly 10% of the 1400 cases of criminalization in this report.” When questioned, Rivera notes that Tennessee had a fetal assault law in place from 2014-2016 if a woman tested positive for an illegal drug in delivery. This law was allowed to sunset. 

With the Dobbs decision, the threat of pregnancy criminalization will only increase. According to Rivera “Law enforcement and healthcare providers should follow the scientific and medical evidence, not be sidetracked by the stigma associated with substance use. The threat of pregnancy criminalization, like the criminal legal system itself, targets communities of color and is deeply rooted in racism.”