Ferguson v. City of Charleston Redux: Motivated reasoning and coercive interventions in pregnancy

Mary Faith Marshall, Julia Taylor, Debra DeBruin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Criminalization of perinatal substance use disorder and other coercive interventions in pregnancy (such as forced cesarean delivery or involuntary hospitalization for bed rest) directly affect the well-being of children and their families and, potentially, of all women of reproductive capacity. Untenable legal and policy approaches that occasion such incursions not only persist but affect a growing number of women. They are antithetical to healthy pregnancies, healthy children, and healthy families; they have the potential to reduce prenatal care seeking, divert attention and resources away from critical mental health and maternal and child support services, and epigenetically affect maternal and infant bonding. Punitive and coercive interventions contravene long-established guidance by professional associations that advocate for public health approaches and ethical frameworks to guide practice. Harmful policies persist because of motivated reasoning by clinicians, members of the judiciary, and ill-informed legislators who rely on personal experience and anecdote rather than evidence to fashion policy. Compounding the problem are inadequate substance use treatment resources and professional associations that choose not to hold their members accountable for violating their ethical obligations to their patients. Pediatricians must advocate for the cessation of coercive interventions within their institutions and their larger communities. All health care professionals should collaborate at the local, state, and national level to provide policymakers and legislators with data emphasizing the negative effects of punitive and coercive policies aimed at pregnant women and their children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20200818Q
Pages (from-to)S86-S92
StatePublished - Aug 2020

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the American Academy of Pediatrics


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