Blaming MothersAmerican Law and the Risks to Children's Health

Blaming MothersAmerican Law and the Risks to Children's Health

Linda C. Fentiman

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780814724828

Publisher: NYU Press


In the past several decades, medicine, the media, and popular culture have focused on mothers as the primary source of health risk for their children, even though American children are healthier than ever. The American legal system both reflects and reinforces this conception of risk. This book explores how this occurs by looking at unconscious psychological processes, including the ways in which we perceive risk, which shape the actions of key legal decisionmakers, including prosecutors, judges, and jurors. These psychological processes inevitably distort the way that ostensibly neutral legal principles are applied in ways that are biased against mothers. The book shows how assertions that mothers and mothers-to-be have “risked” their children’s health play out in practice. Pregnant women, women who do or do not breastfeed, and mothers whose children are injured or killed by the mother’s abusive male partner end up facing civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution. The book also illustrates how America’s resistance to the precautionary principle has led to an epidemic of children poisoned by lead. Vaccination is the only area in which parents are permitted to opt out of medically recommended health care for their children. The book explores the role of “choice” in children’s health and how it is applied unevenly to mothers and others, including manufacturers of toxic products. The book ends with recommendations for real improvement in children’s health.

Table of Contents

Part I Introduction to Risk and Children’s Health

Part II Mothers as Vectors of Risk

Part III Environmental Hazards to Children: Toxic Substances and Contagious Diseases

Part IV A New Framework for Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction