Blaming Mothers

American Law and the Risks to Children’s Health

Are mothers truly a danger to children’s health? In 2004, Utah prosecutors charged a mentally disabled woman with murder after she declined to have a Caesarian section and subsequently delivered a stillborn child. In 2010, a pregnant woman who attempted suicide was charged with murder and attempted feticide after the death of the child she delivered prematurely. These are but two of many cases that portray mothers as the major source of health risk for their children.

In Blaming Mothers, Linda C. Fentiman explores how mothers became legal targets. She explains the psychological processes we use to confront tragic events and unconscious biases that influence the decisions of prosecutors, judges, and jurors. Fentiman examines legal actions taken against pregnant women in the name of “fetal protection” including court ordered C-sections and maintaining brain-dead pregnant women on life support to gestate a fetus, as well as charges brought against mothers who fail to protect their children from an abusive male partner. She considers the claims of physicians and policymakers that refusing to breastfeed is risky to children’s health.

A powerful call to reexamine who - and what - we consider risky to children’s health, Blaming Mothers provides concrete solutions for promoting the health of all of America’s children.

"Gripping and powerful. It is also chilling as Linda Fentiman unmasks society’s penchant for shaming and punishing mostly young, poor women.”
—Lawrence O. Gostin, Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law, Georgetown University

“Blaming Mothers connects the dots across policy areas to provide a comprehensive answer about how to improve children’s health when Mom is properly relocated to the sidelines. A wonderful book for those in medicine, public health, child welfare, education, and law as well as  mothers and their families; that is, for everyone.”
—Carol Sanger, Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

“Offers a probing analysis of a society and government that blame mothers for various social ills and conditions that plague American society.  Linda Fentiman explains the pernicious impact of poverty on children’s health, including higher rates of lead poisoning and asthma among low income children of color.  Sadly, in those instances mothers are blamed - sometimes civilly and criminally - making it risky to be a poor mother in America.”
—Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Chancellor's Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine