Many mainstream feminist and prochoice groups have been reluctant to adopt intersectional approaches and to declare common cause with other progressive movements. Yet the advent of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex (PIC) makes clear that securing women’s reproductive health and rights requires our full-on and intersectional engagement. We must reject an “add prisons and stir” approach to advocacy in favor of making dismantling mass incarceration and other systems of institutional discrimination central to our efforts. And there is no better time than the present: if the War on Drugs and the 600% increase in incarceration of women between 1980 and 2000 wasn’t enough to propel feminist organizations into action, perhaps the introduction of laws that allow the incarceration of women because they are pregnant will.
On July 1, 2014 Tennessee lawSB 1391 went into effect, making it possible to punish pregnant women and new mothers for the crime of fetal assault if a newborn experiences an “injury” that can be ascribed to something other than a woman’s “lawful acts” or “lawful omissions.” The law has a special focus on pregnant women who use illegal narcotics. This law, passed in the guise of promoting drug treatment, renders Tennessee the first state in the country to legislatively pass such a law. One week after the law went into effect, police made their first arrest.