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In 1998, Yuriko Kawaguchi appeared before Cleveland, Ohio Municipal Court Judge Patricia Cleary and entered a guilty plea to a fifth-degree felony forgery count resulting from her use of a counterfeit credit card. Approximately two weeks before her sentencing hearing, Ms. Kawaguchi wrote to Judge Cleary, informing the judge that she was pregnant and wished to end her pregnancy by obtaining an abortion. At the sentencing hearing the judge objected to the defendant's plans to obtain an abortion and offered her a "quid pro quo" deal. If the defendant agreed to bring the fetus to term, Judge Cleary promised to sentence her to probation. If Ms. Kawaguchi insisted on having the abortion, then the Judge indicated that she would sentence Ms. Kawaguchi to a prison term of six months. Ms. Kawaguchi refused "the deal." By the time Ms. Kawaguchi was released by an order of the Eighth District Court of Appeals granting bond, she was too far along in her pregnancy to obtain a legal abortion in the State of Ohio. (1) It is difficult, if not impossible, to know whether cases as egregious as Ms. Kawaguchi's are common in American courts because such quid pro quo "deals" between judges and criminal defendants usually are not on the record. Nevertheless, we do know that some judges use incarceration, and threats thereof, to control the behavior of pregnant women who come before them in order to protect the fetuses. Some pregnant women who pose no risk to their fetuses come before judges as a result of crimes that are completely unrelated to their pregnancies, as in the case of Ms. Kawaguchi. Other pregnant women are before judges on civil or criminal charges related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs--behavior that is believed to be detrimental to their fetuses. Others become involved with the state when their doctors report their non-conforming behavior, sometimes drug-related, to state social service agencies. Finally, others become involved with state agencies because their behaviors are restricted by state statutes designed to protect fetuses from the improvident behaviors of their mothers. Regardless of how these women become involved with the court or other state actors, judges use their power to detain women as a way to influence pregnancy-related decisions.

Professional & Technical
January 1
Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

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