Murder of pregnant women
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Murder of pregnant women is a type of homicide often resulting from domestic violence. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV), is suffered by many people and in the majority of cases where the victim comes forward the victim is a woman. For many of these women the fear of harm includes not just themselves but their unborn child as well. Pregnancy-associated death has become more commonly termed as pregnancy-associated homicide. Recently, more focus has been placed on pregnancy-associated deaths due to violence. IPV may begin when the victim becomes pregnant. Research has shown that abuse while pregnant is a red flag for pregnancy-associated homicide.
The murder of pregnant women represents a relatively recently studied class of murder. Limited statistics are available as there is no reliable system in place yet to track such cases. Whether pregnancy is a causal factor is hard to determine.
Among many other studies, a study done by Isabelle Horon, DrPH, of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that looked at pregnancy-associated deaths from 1993 to 1998 found that homicide was the leading cause of death in women who were pregnant. Homicides accounted for 20% of deaths, compared to 6% of deaths among non-pregnant women of reproductive age. Heart disease was found to be the second leading cause of death for pregnant women accounting for 19% of deaths during pregnancy.
ABC News claim that about 20 percent of women who die during pregnancy are victims of murder. However, according to the CDC "The pregnancy-associated homicide ratio was 1.7 per 100,000 live births". In other words, the chances of a pregnant woman being murdered was around 0.0017%. However, a study by Jeani Chang and coworkers, published in the American Journal of Public Health, showed that pregnancy associated deaths reported by the CDC underestimate the problem. According to their data, the rate in Maryland is 10.5 per 100,000 live births, a much higher figure.
Isabelle Horon and Diana Cheng published a Maryland study in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association which found "a pregnant or recently pregnant woman is more likely to be a victim of homicide than to die of any other cause":
[T]he killings span racial and ethnic groups. In cases whose details were known, 67 percent of women were killed with firearms. Many women were slain at home — in bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens — usually by men they knew. Husbands. Boyfriends. Lovers.
The suggestion that this is the primary cause of prenatal maternal death, however, suffers a lack of fully reliable data. Homicide was the second-leading cause of death among women ages 20 to 24 and fifth among women ages 25–34 in 1999. The top cause of death in both age groups is accidents.
Laws and policies
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, passed in 2004, defines a fetus as a "child in uterus" and a person as being a legal crime victim "if a fetal injury or death occurs during the commission of a federal violent crime." In the U.S., 36 states have laws with more harsh penalties if the victim is murdered while pregnant. Some of these laws defining the fetus as being a person, "for the purpose of criminal prosecution of the offender" (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2008). Laci Peterson, murdered in 2002, is one of the more high-profile homicides.
Currently in the North Carolina Senate, a bill called the SB 353 Unborn Victims of Violence Act is being considered for legislation that would create a separate criminal offense for the death of a fetus when the mother is murdered. The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence does not support this law for numerous reasons including failure to see violence against the mother as the cause of the fetal death. The Coalition does, however, support the position of the National Network to End Domestic Violence regarding the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
While it is almost impossible to determine an exact intervention point to prevent pregnancy-associated homicides, some possible opportunities can be pinpointed. The medical community is one of those points. Women may feel safe speaking to their health care providers about the abuse, especially after discovering they are pregnant. Some medical office and hospital policies specify that doctors will examine the patient privately without allowing the partner access. In a 2001 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Victoria Frye writes, "Homicide by intimate partners may offer a focal point for effective pregnancy-associated mortality prevention efforts because many of these women come into contact with the health care system before their deaths." Reviews of Intimate Partner Homicide policy and research has identified several needs: System-wide training in healthcare on signs of domestic violence and system-wide screening for domestic violence by health care providers, as well as the knowledge of where to refer women to that need services when abuse is disclosed.
Statistics for pregnancy as being a motivating factor in the murder of a pregnant woman are usually unavailable. Motives may vary, with a woman's pregnancy at the time of death sometimes being coincidental.
- Campbell, JC, Glass, N, Sharps, PW, Laughon, K, and Bloom, T (2007) Intimate Partner Homicide: Review and Implications of Research and Policy. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. (8), 246-269.
- Martin, SL, Macy, RJ, Sullivan, K, and Magee, ML (2007) Pregnancy-Associated Violent Deaths: The Role of Intimate Partner Violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. (8), 135-148.
- Parker, B, McFarlane, J, and Soeken, K (1994) Abuse During Pregnancy: Effects on Maternal Complications and Birth Weight in Adult and Teenage Women. Obstet Gynecol. 323-328.
- St. George, Donna (December 19, 2004). "Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent Deaths". Washington Post.
- Homicide, suicide outpace traditional causes of death in pregnant, postpartum women, Oct. 20, 201, Georgia Health Sciences University http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020191854.ht
- Homicide a leading cause of death in pregnant women.(ContinuingEducation) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Homicide+a+leading+cause+of+death+in+pregnant+women.+%28Continuing...-a080055987
- A 2001 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association said 20 percent of Maryland women who died during pregnancy were murdered. Researchers found the same trend in New York from 1987-1991 and in the Chicago area from 1986-1989. According to the CDC, approximately 324,000 pregnant women are hurt by an intimate partner or former partner each year.
- "Murder Is One of Top Causes of Death for Pregnant Women". ABC News. June 26, 2007.
- citation needed
- Chang J, Berg CJ, Saltzman, LE, Herndon J. Homicide: a leading cause of injury deaths among pregnant and postpartum women in the United States, 1991–1999. Am J Public Health. 2005;95:471–477 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449445/
- Curtis, Kim (April 23, 2003). "Murder: The Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant Women". Associated Press.
- Ghazaleh, S, Martin, SL, and Schiro, S (2010) Homicide Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women in the United States: A Review of the Literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. (11), 42-54.
- "NCCADV Position Statement: Fetal Murder Legislation" (PDF). North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved 31 March 2011.
- Frye, V (2001) Examining Homicide's Contribution to Pregnancy-Associated Deaths. Journal of American Medical Association. (11), 1510-11.