Poor Women and the Protective State

Khiara M. Bridges

Volume 63, Issue 6, 1619-1626

This Article puts poor, pregnant women’s current experience with the state into conversation with the science of prenatal and early childhood brain development and looks at the effect on women’s autonomy of government regulation of individual behaviors that may harm fetal brain development. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork with poor, pregnant women that reveals that indigent women’s current experience with the regulatory state is one in which their autonomy is already grossly compromised, this Article argues that the infringement on vulnerable populations’ privacy rights is guaranteed should the government attempt to manage or reduce assaults on prenatal brain development through the regulation of individual behaviors. Regulations that focus on individuals should be drafted with a focus on social justice in order to protect the autonomy of poor women affected by these laws. This Article suggests, however, that a better approach is regulation on the macro-level—through legislation that requires product testing and prevents manufacturers from introducing certain chemicals into the marketplace or environment.

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