When pregnancy is an injury: Rape, law, and culture

Boston University, USA.
Stanford Law Review (Impact Factor: 4.32). 03/2013; 65(3):457-516.
Source: PubMed


This Article examines criminal statutes that grade more severely sexual assaults that result in pregnancy. These laws, which define pregnancy as a “substantial bodily injury,” run directly counter to positive constructions of pregnancy within culture. The fact that the criminal law, in this instance, reflects this negative, subversive understanding of pregnancy creates the possibility that this idea may be received within culture as a construction of pregnancy that is as legitimate as positive understandings. In this way, these laws create possibilities for the reimagining of pregnancy within law and society. Moreover, these laws recall the argumentation that proponents of abortion rights once made – argumentation that one no longer hears and sees in the debates surrounding abortion. However, recent developments in antiabortion argumentation – namely the notion accepted in Carhart II that it is abortion that injures women – counsel the retrieval of the argument that unwanted pregnancies are injuries to women. Thus, the sexual assault laws are means to legitimatize a claim that may serve as an effective counterdiscourse to prevailing antiabortion argumentation. The exploration proceeds in three Parts. Part I provides an overview of sexual assault statutes that punish more severely perpetrators who cause their victims to become pregnant and suggests that these laws are worthy of cultural analysis because they define pregnancy as an injury and, as such, are wholly at odds with positive constructions of pregnancy. Part II moves the discussion outside of the context of rape. It contends that the definition of pregnancy as an injury does not solely describe women’s experience of pregnancies that result from rape, but generally describes women’s experience of unwanted pregnancy. Indeed, it is the profound unwantedness of the pregnancy that results from rape that makes it an injury. Thus, the criminal law gives legitimacy to a subversive phenomenology of unwanted pregnancy, which may have repercussions for how pregnancy – and abortion – is understood within society. Part III looks at representations of pregnancy in other areas of the law, revealing that the law frequently embodies positive constructions of pregnancy even when negative constructions might be expected. The rare times that the law appears to represent pregnancy subversively are when laws index the social effects of pregnancies. Accordingly, while the law in these instances represents pregnancy as an injury, the injury is to the body politic. Thus, the subversive nature of the representation is mitigated, as it does not endeavor to describe a bodily experience of pregnancy. A brief conclusion follows.

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