Pregnancy Justice today released the groundbreaking report Harming Fathers: How the Family Court System Forces Men to Regulate Pregnancy , which analyzes and documents dozens of cases from around the country in which men have been labeled as abusive or neglectful — even losing access to their children — for failing to control the behavior of the women during their pregnancies.
This is the first time an analysis of the topic has been undertaken. The report identifies 56 cases in 14 states where a prospective father’s lack of control over a pregnant person was found to constitute civil child abuse or neglect on his part. This represents state-mandated patriarchal control unprecedented in recent U.S. history and more aligned with a time when women were first the property of their fathers and then their husbands.
Notably, Pregnancy Justice documented the most cases in New York, followed by Texas. The cases demonstrate judicial overreach and the destructive forces in the family regulation system across the country. In fact, many of the decisions resulted in family separation and the termination of fathers’ parental rights; in some circumstances, even creating orphans in the process or allowing adoptions to proceed against the men’s wishes.
“Reproductive justice work often focuses only on women and pregnant people. This report highlights how anti-reproductive justice efforts affect men, specifically the family regulation system’s demand that men control pregnant women and the downstream effects a Roe reversal will have on men, also. As more pregnant people face criminalization and other state intervention for behavior seen as harmful to a fetus, so will the fathers. When family courts require men to control women’s behavior in order to maintain relationships with their children and watch them grow, they impose yet another form of harmful, unnecessary family separation and intergenerational trauma,” said Pregnancy Justice Staff Attorney Samantha Lee.
The behavior most often in question involves a pregnant woman using drugs and a prospective father’s inability to stop that drug use. As one father quoted in the report said, “How am I supposed to force her to stop? I have been supportive and sent her to get help. I don’t own her; she is not a pet.” These cases also reinforce false and inaccurate assumptions about pregnant people and stigmatize children as damaged or harmed. All of this is done on the basis of medically and scientifically unsupported assumptions about the relative risk of drug use during pregnancy.
In addition to case analysis, Harming Fathers offers family defense attorneys guidance on presenting both factual and legal challenges to these types of cases. As we face the reality that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, we must acknowledge that the decision will have far-reaching implications beyond abortion and reframe reproductive justice as more than a “women’s issue.” Just as we anticipate an increase in the criminalization of women for all pregnancy outcomes — even healthy births with behavior that is stigmatized as dangerous to a fetus — we anticipate that more partners of pregnant people will also face consequences related to pregnancy.
By requiring men to control the behavior of pregnant women in order to maintain their parental rights, courts are reinforcing sexist, racist beliefs about who has the right to autonomy and who is worthy to parent.