Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood. By Michele Goodwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Winter 2022




University of Chicago Press




Though the constitutional law of abortion and reproduction is built on the edifice of privacy and choice, reproductive justice scholars and advocates have long critiqued the frames of “choice” and “privacy” as abstract legal doctrines that are not actually descriptive of the reality of women’s lives. For these critics, abstracting away from women’s lives masks the reality of how the law shapes women’s reproductive decision making. Worse yet, it makes it seem like poor health and pregnancy outcomes are the result of choice rather than the structural and social determinants that shape people’s lives. This paradox is particularly true for poor women whose lives are structured by the rules of the welfare state. And where these poor women are women of color—particularly Black and Latinx—racism adds additional dimensions to the purported rationales for regulating women’s bodies. Key books have laid the foundations for the critique of an abstract, legalistic approach to reproductive rights. In her now famous and foundational text, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Dorothy Roberts demonstrates this through a sustained examination of how Black women’s reproduction has been controlled and managed by the state and private actors.In her recent work, The Poverty of Privacy Rights, Khiara Bridges highlights how poor women accessing pregnancy-related care are subject to a range of assessments that undermine any conception of privacy.

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