Historically, both criminal and civil courts have on occasion attempted, through sentencing or probation conditions, to impose restrictions on defendants' reproductive capacities as part of their sentencing. The conditions imposed have included forced sterilization, contraception or castration, and prohibitions on fathering a child, pregnancy and engaging in sexual intercourse. Although, when challenged, most such restrictions have been struck down as unconsitutional and unrelated to any compelling state interest, many people have in fact been subjected to such penalties and there may be a growing trend towards such approaches.
State v. Greywind, No. CR-92-447 (N.D. Cass County Ct. Apr. 10, 1992).
On February 7, 1992, Martina Greywind, a twenty-eight-year-old homeless Native American woman from Fargo who was approximately twelve weeks pregnant, was arrested. She was charged with reckless endangerment based on the claim that by inhaling the vapors of paint fumes, she was creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to her unborn child. The complaint alleged:
[The] defendant willfully created a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to another, to-wit: . . . MARTINA GREYWIND, while pregnant intentionally inhaled the vapors of a volatile chemical in violation of North Dakota Century Code 12.1-31-06 and thereby willfully created a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to her unborn child.
On February 10, 1992, Ms. Greywind, without a lawyer, initially pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to nine months at a state prison farm and ordered to participate in a chemical dependency program. After an attorney took her case, however, Ms. Greywind was allowed to withdraw her plea on February 12, 1992.
During this time, members of the Lambs of Christ were active in Fargo attempting to disrupt the Fargo Women's Health Clinic, the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. The Lambs of Christ is a loosely organized group of Roman Catholics who "focus on the rescue of unborn children." They had been in North Dakota since March and members of their group had been repeatedly jailed. News stories about the case reported that members of the group who had been arrested attempted to befriend Ms. Greywind while they were in jail together.
According to court records and the press, Lambs of Christ spokesperson Ronald Maxson posted $100 for a $1000 personal recognizance bond for Ms. Greywind. Nine hours after her release on bail, Ms. Greywind was re-arrested because police allegedly caught her sniffing paint again. She pleaded guilty to illegal inhalation of chemical vapors and was transferred to the state mental hospital. The State's Attorney said Ms. Greywind was to spend thirty days in the hospital or jail as her sentence. On February 20, 1992, a lawyer for the Lambs of Christ filed a petition seeking to have the woman's brother, Ken Greywind, appointed her legal guardian, apparently in an effort to prevent Ms. Greywind from having an abortion. According to an affidavit filed by Mr. Greywind, "I believe she is contemplating an abortion in order to have the charge of reckless endangerment dismissed and get out of jail so she can continue to abuse her body." The court denied Mr. Greywind’s petition.
On February 21, 1992 the State and Ms. Greywind entered a stipulation -- an agreement between the parties -- that Ms. Greywind “be released from the Cass County Jail for the following medical and/or psychological appointment: February 22, 1992, at 11:00 A.M.” According to press reports, this release enabled Ms. Greywind to obtain an abortion at the Fargo Women’s Health Clinic. Ms. Greywind obtained the abortion, despite widely-publicized efforts by abortion opponents to persuade her to carry the pregnancy to term including a financial offer conveyed by the Lambs of Christ of at least $10,000. Ms. Greywind expressed a desire to have the abortion, but also her inability to pay the cost of the procedure. North Dakota law prohibited state funding of abortion. According to the press, anonymous donors offered to pay for the $300-400 cost of her abortion. On February 24, 1992, Mr. Maxson of the Lambs of Christ requested that the $100 bail be returned to him. The request was granted.
On March 30, 1992, Ms. Greywind filed a motion to dismiss the charges arguing that “the State in this case [was] seeking to criminalize the pregnancy of a drug-addicted woman by applying a strained and unforeseen construction of the North Dakota reckless endangerment statute," as well as other grounds including the fact that the abortion rendered the case moot. Assistant Cass County Prosecutor Steve Dawson then filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice stating:
On February 10, 1992 [Martina Greywind] was charged with the offense of Reckless Endangerment, a class A misdemeanor. The defendant has recently undergone treatment at the North Dakota State Hospital and is presently in custody at the Cass County Jail on a subsequent and pending charge of Inhalation of Volatile Chemicals in violation of N.D.C.C. Section 12.1-31-06. Defendant has made it known to the State that she has terminated her pregnancy. Consequently, the controversial legal issues presented are no longer ripe for litigation. Further, the likelihood of this extreme factual situation recurring is limited. In the interest of preserving limited prosecutorial and judicial resources, Plaintiff hereby moves to dismiss the Complaint in this action with prejudice.
According to news reports, the prosecutor in the case stated that since Ms. Greywind had the abortion, it was “no longer worth the time or expense to prosecute her.” On April 10, 1992, the child endangerment charge was dismissed.
In a society that values children, it's striking how frequently our public policy falls short of our rhetoric. Too often, the notion of collective responsibility for the nation's children translates into collective demonization of pregnant women. Collective responsibility for our children should mean support for policies that help pregnant women get the care they need to have healthy babies. Instead, states and localities are increasingly blaming individual women, exaggerating the harms from individual behaviors.
In Arkansas' recent special spring session, Hot Springs Rep. Bob Mathis followed up his successful proposal to make it illegal for someone to smoke in a car with children with a proposal to ban pregnant women from smoking.
For those who subscribe to the view that pregnant women are vessels, treating them like cars makes perfect sense.
Historically, both criminal and civil courts have on occasion attempted, through sentencing or probation conditions, to impose restrictions on defendants' reproductive capacities as part of their sentencing. This Fact Sheet, provides an overview of the issue and court cases as of 2004. NAPW thanks Emily Berger for her help with this informational fact sheet. Rachel Roth's recent article: "No New Babies?" Gender Inequality and Reproductive Control in the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems, Volume 12 Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and the Law, at 392 (2005), also provides an excellent overview of these issues and cases. www.wcl.american.edu/journal/genderlaw/12/roth.pdf
Too poor to procreate: How the Monroe County Court Opinion in In the Matter of Bobbijean P. furthers the rational of service cuts to poor families and fails to advance the welfare of children
By Lynn M. Paltrow
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
A recent decision by a Monroe County judge ordering a couple not to procreate has received national and international attention. Ostensibly, this decision addresses the personal irresponsibility of two drug-abusing parents. In fact, this decision creates a financial means test for procreation.