Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Susan Caulfield

Second Advisor

Dr. Ron Kramer

Third Advisor

Deloris Jordan Phillips

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


The focus of study was the war on drugs and the fetal rights movement as they relate to the criminalization of pregnancy. There was a movement in the 1980s and early 1990s to prosecute pregnant women for prenatal drug use under child abuse statutes and/or drug delivery statutes.

A social constructionist framework was used to analyze this movement. This thesis utilized a qualitative case study relying on documentary analysis. Literature on the war of drugs and the fetal rights movement was analyzed as it related to the prosecutions of pregnant drug users and the subsequent criminalization of pregnancy.

It was determined that the problem of pregnant drug users was socially constructed by four primary claimsmakers: (1) prosecutors, (2) health care officials, (3) the Reagan and Bush administrations, and (4) fetal rights advocates. Such prosecutions primarily served the interests of the claimsmakers, especially the Reagan and Bush administrations and the fetal rights movement.