Sparked by the story of Alicia Beltran, this Note explores state use of civil commitment statutes to police pregnant women suspected of drug use. Civil commitment determinations are already infiltrated by sanism: an irrational prejudice against those with mental disabilities and illnesses expressed through stereotyping and stigmatization similar to that of other prejudices such as racism and sexism. Yet, deficiencies in civil commitment safeguards for pregnant women cannot be explained simply as an issue of sanism, gender oppression, wealth inequality, or racism. Rather, each of these components must be combined to reveal how the interaction of each erodes the constitutional protections of civil commitment, thereby preventing the law from being applied in a way that would avoid these problems. In effect, involuntary civil commitment of pregnant women suspected of substance use is both under- and over-inclusive. It is under-inclusive in that it targets women who are vulnerable to biases—women of racial minorities and low socioeconomic status—and ignores other populations of women who may use substances during pregnancy. It is over-inclusive in that it results in a deprivation of liberty for women who do not satisfy the traditional dangerousness standard. As written, statutes policing pregnant women with forcible civil commitment cannot be applied in a manner that would avoid the problems arising from sanism, sexism, racism, and socioeconomic biases.
Schwartz, Alyson R.
"Dangerous or Just Pregnant? How Sanism & Biases Infect the Dangerousness Determination in the Civil Commitment of Pregnant Women,"
Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality:
2, Article 4.
Available at: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/ijlse/vol3/iss2/4