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Double Issue: 9.1-9.2: Fall 2010 / Spring 2011
Guest Edited by Rebecca Jordan-Young
Critical Conceptions: Technology, Justice, and the Global Reproductive Market

Beyond Carrots and Sticks: Effective Public Education and Feminist Research in Conservative States

A Response by Carol Mason and Jeanne Flavin

This article is a response to Michele Bratcher Goodwin's "Reproductive Carrots and Sticks" in this issue.

By serving up "carrots and sticks" alongside fertility cocktails in her essay on artificial reproductive technologies, Michele Bratcher Goodwin examines society's two main offerings to women who use drugs and who become pregnant.[1] As Goodwin makes clear with case studies and legal analysis, policy makers and law enforcement officials too seldom pass around any incentives or rewards for seeking prenatal care and rehabilitation, opting instead to serve up plate after plate of punishment for women whose pregnancy and drug use coincide. Goodwin recognizes that the "stick effect" does not work and bemoans the fact that there are so few carrots in the form of "treatment, education, and support" for women who use drugs and who become pregnant. The answer is to discipline, not punish, and to create the incentives and conditions so that she learns to self-discipline on her own.[2] "Enacting legislative policies that help women craft healthy prenatal choices is an urgent carrot goal of which I am in favor," Goodwin concludes.

One limit to the carrot and stick approach, however, is that it implies that the individual pregnant woman is what needs to be fixed. It too easily accommodates those who see a woman's prenatal decisions and actions as the problem. From this perspective, it is the woman—not the criminal justice system or an American economy heavily reliant on the corrections industry—who needs rehabilitation. It is she—not a media that produces sensationalist and inaccurate coverage of these cases or the communities who champion such punitive attitudes toward women—who needs education.

We share Goodwin's concerns about whose reproduction is valued and the consequences of punitive measures. We would like to move the discussion beyond documenting carrots and sticks, however, to consider ways in which the legislation and court rulings she describes and the contexts in which they take place can be challenged and changed. The role that public education and feminist research can play in this is huge, even in places often deemed by academics and others as too conservative to contend with.

What does it mean when we mention, as Goodwin does in her essay, that a particular reproductive injustice took place in Kentucky or South Carolina? Too often (though not necessarily in Goodwin's case), this implication summons unexamined stereotypes: name a state presumed to be more rural than urban and it suggests backwards attitudes and practices. Mentioning a southern state or rural area inevitably calls up easily demonized and therefore under-examined dynamics of racism, poverty, and patriarchy. Such places are written off by many scholars and activists as far too entrenched in conservatism (or worse) to live there, study there, or teach there, or try to change anything, least of all reproductive injustices such as a lack of access to prenatal care and drug treatment, coerced sterilizations, tight restrictions on access to abortion, bans on fact-based and proven effective sexual education, no-procreation orders, and, as Goodwin's essay attests, punishing and prosecuting pregnant women with reinterpreted laws and judicial redefinitions of child abuse/neglect and drug trafficking.

To be sure, such reproductive injustices do not occur evenly across the United States, and "red" states see more of them. National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) has documented hundreds of known cases in at least forty states where pregnant women who are identified as drug users have been arrested.[3] Preliminary analysis provides empirical support for Goodwin's claim that the brunt of the criminal justice system's intrusions into women's pregnancies has been borne by low-income women of color. Furthermore, more than 75% of the documented cases have taken place in the South or the Midwest while fewer than 10% have taken place in the Northeast.

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