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Are mothers truly a danger to their children’s health? The American legal system is deeply shaped by unconscious risk perception that distorts core legal principles to punish mothers who “fail to protect” their children.
In Blaming Mothers, Professor Fentiman explores how mothers became legal targets. She explains the psychological processes we use to confront tragic events and the unconscious race, class, and gender biases that affect our perceptions and influence the decisions of prosecutors, judges, and jurors. Fentiman examines legal actions taken against pregnant women in the name of “fetal protection” including court ordered C-sections and maintaining brain-dead pregnant women on life support to gestate a fetus, as well as charges brought against mothers who fail to protect their children from an abusive male partner. She considers the claims of physicians and policymakers that refusing to breastfeed is risky to children’s health. And she explores the legal treatment of lead-poisoned children, in which landlords and lead paint manufacturers are not held responsible for exposing children to high levels of lead, while mothers are blamed for their children’s injuries.
Blaming Mothers is a powerful call to reexamine who—and what—we consider risky to children’s health. Fentiman offers an important framework for evaluating childhood risk that, rather than scapegoating mothers, provides concrete solutions that promote the health of all of America’s children.
About the Author
Linda C. Fentiman is Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, where she was named the James D. Hopkins Professor in 2011. A nationally recognized scholar in health law, mental disability law, and criminal law, she is the author of Blaming Mothers: American Law and the Risks to Children’s Health (New York University Press 2017).
In addition to Pace, Professor Fentiman has taught at Columbia and Suffolk University Law Schools, the University of Houston Law Center, University College London, and the University of Warsaw in Poland, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. Professor Fentiman’s scholarship is interdisciplinary. She has written extensively about health law issues, including children’s health, death and dying, health care access, HIV/AIDS, the HPV vaccine and vaccination exemption, Internet pharmacies, organ transplantation, physician advocacy, and telemedicine. Writing at the intersection of health law and criminal law, her work examines addiction, domestic violence, the insanity defense, and competency to stand trial. Professor Fentiman is also an expert on reproductive rights, and has written extensively on access to abortion and contraception, “fetal protection” policies, and the criminal prosecution of pregnant women and mothers. Professor Fentiman is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and has been a visiting scholar at the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Hastings Center. She has also served on the National Academy of Science Committee on Toxicogenomics.
As a practicing lawyer, Professor Fentiman focused on criminal law, health law, and environmental law. She chaired the Committee on Health Law at the New York City Bar Association. Professor Fentiman holds a B.S. from Cornell University, a J.D. from S.U.NY. Buffalo, and an LL.M. from Harvard University. She is admitted to the bar in California, New York, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts