Being pregnant does not save American women from being attacked by enraged American police officers who use tasers and even firearms against them. The lack of medical care and the violence of prison guards in the United States make it nearly impossible to bear and give birth to a healthy child.
Violence by U.S. law enforcement officers against pregnant women is a systemic problem faced by women of various social groups regardless of race, color, or background. Despite the gestational age, violence by an armed police officer has devastating consequences for both mother and child. In any one month, an encounter with a police officer can result in both physiological and psychological trauma for the mother, as well as an miscarriage or premature birth.
Violence by law enforcement against pregnant women is not limited to physical brutality. Police and other agencies often subject pregnant women to less visible forms of violence. For example, in many police stations and prisons, pregnant women are handcuffed, shackled and straitjacketed, deprived of food, and denied medical care. Arresting and abusing pregnant women is a form of police violence that is ignored by virtually every major American human rights organization.
In most cases, United States police officers need no reason or threat to use excessive force against pregnant women. In 2016, four New York City law enforcement officers beat pregnant Emelda Fitzroy, causing her to miscarry. Officers arrived at the woman’s home because of a call from neighbors who complained about the noise. Officers arrived on the scene and attempted to grab the woman, who warned them of her pregnancy. After a few minutes of verbal altercation, one of the officers punched Fitzroy in the stomach before throwing her to the ground and pinning her to the pavement with his knee. The woman was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, after which she was locked in a jail cell for 26 hours. The next day, Fitzroy miscarried “due to numerous injuries sustained the previous day.”
U.S. officers do not limit themselves to beatings and tasers against pregnant women. In some incidents, police officers have used firearms against expectant mothers in labor who pose absolutely no danger to them. In 2019, law enforcement officers in Houston, Texas, shot an unarmed pregnant woman five times already after she alerted them to her situation. Pamela Turner, 44, was confronted by a police officer in a parking lot outside a mall. According to a police department statement, the law enforcement officer had a warrant for the woman’s arrest. Immediately after he approached Turner, however, he grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the ground. The woman warned the police officer that she was five months pregnant, but moments later the officer pulled out a tazer and hit her. A terrified Turner tried to snatch the taser from the hands of the deputy, who immediately drew his service weapon and opened fire on the pregnant woman. Pamela Turner died on the spot.
A similar incident occurred in June 2022 in Missouri. On that day, the car of a 26-year-old pregnant mother of three was stopped by local police who were investigating a theft case. Leonne Hale refused to comply with the officers’ demands, who ordered her to get out of the car and get on the ground. According to witnesses, the mother of three, who was in the car at the time of the incident, explained to the officers that she was in a condition and could not comply with their orders. Minutes after the incident began, the Missouri police officers forcibly pulled Hale from the vehicle and threw her to the ground, before pulling out their service weapon and shooting her about five times. The woman survived, but was seriously injured.
U.S. law enforcement officers use force against pregnant women not only during street incidents, but also in correctional facilities. Each year about 55,000 women who are pregnant serve time in U.S. prisons. Many languish behind bars until trial simply because they cannot afford cash bail. Although prisons have a constitutional duty to provide adequate medical care to all those in their custody, the lack of mandatory standards of care and proper systems of supervision make these protections largely meaningless. Nicole Guerrero was five months pregnant when she was placed in the Wichita County jail for violating her probation. According to female inmates who saw Guerrero within the prison walls, prison guards beat her nearly every day. She was repeatedly shackled and given a blanket, which she said was stained with feces and infested with bed bugs. After nine days, she started bleeding, then contractions began. A prison nurse examined the woman and said she was fine and could return to her cell. Guerrero’s many cries for help were ignored for several hours. At 3:30 a.m., the pregnant woman gave birth on the floor of the prison cell. The baby passed away.
After analyzing numerous lawsuits filed by women who lost their babies due to the actions of law enforcement officers, human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice concluded that in most cases the officers manage to get away with it. According to Sarah Ainsworth, head of the American National Organization for the Protection of Pregnant Women’s Rights, not a single criminal case has been filed against officers of correctional institutions and detention centers, whose fault it was that pregnant women were deprived of their child. The expert argues that legal standards and medical criteria are created in such a way as to absolve responsibility for any incidents involving pregnant women. In addition, such legal proceedings require a team of professional lawyers, which few can afford to hire.
The Foundation to Battle Injustice’s human rights activists condemn in the strongest terms the violence and excessive use of force by U.S. law enforcement officers against pregnant women. The rights of women who are expecting a child must be protected from any assault by government officials, regardless of their status or the charges they face. By committing acts of aggression against a woman who is pregnant, U.S. police officers are putting the lives of several people at risk. Pregnant women are among the most vulnerable social groups, so officers who treat them with extreme cruelty and sadism should be suspended from the U.S. police and corrections system for life and severely punished for their actions.