by Deborah Small
Pregnancy holds a special space in most societies; it is a biological necessity for species preservation and represents the promise of future generations. Pregnancy is thought by many to bestow upon women an extra layer of societal protection and care. Social conventions dictate that pregnant women be given priority seating on buses, trains and other forms of transport and in lines for rest rooms and priority rescue during natural disasters. We believe ourselves to be solicitous and helpful to pregnant women and accord them an extra measure of respect.
But in many ways in the United States the treatment of pregnant women has been and continues to be class specific. Poor and working-class women often find pregnancy a difficult time, especially if they have jobs that don't offer health care benefits, sick time or maternity leave. Those challenges can make pregnancy difficult enough without the extra worry of health care providers and/or aggressive prosecutors looking over your shoulders and sometimes even examining your urine to make sure you aren't engaging in activities they consider 'harmful' to your fetus. In the aftermath of the crack cocaine media hysteria of the 1980s, laws that were enacted to give more protection to women who were physically assaulted while pregnant - began to be used against pregnant women. Punitive prosecutors and anti-choice advocates promoted the idea that the most dangerous place for certain children is their mother's womb. It appears that we are seeing a similar response to the increasing use of opiates by pregnant women.
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