Coercion, Criminalization, and Child ‘Protection’: Homeless Individuals’ Reproductive Lives

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The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the constitutional importance of reproductive autonomy. However, for the unhoused the guarantees of this right can be seen as fictitious promises. This Comment aims to explore the continuum of limitations on reproductive autonomy faced by homeless individuals, and its implications for reproductive rights and justice. Homeless individuals encounter a web of overlapping and mutually reinforcing constraints on their reproductive autonomy at several stages of their reproductive lives—when they are not pregnant but have the capacity to be, during their pregnancy, and as they raise their children. First, in seeking welfare assistance and other public benefits, homeless individuals face significant coercive pressure towards marriage and/or away from pregnancy. Second, homeless individuals are particularly susceptible to the criminalization of pregnancy, which serves to further entrench their poverty. Finally, after a homeless individual gives birth, their lack of housing makes them and their families more susceptible to the child-welfare system, where they may eventually lose their child. In this Comment, I offer close examination of the above constraints and the way in which they subject the homeless population to unjust limitations on their fundamental right to decide “whether to bear or beget a child.”

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