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Law and MedicineCurrent Legal Issues Volume 3$
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Michael Freeman and Andrew Lewis

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198299189

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198299189.001.0001

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The Politics of Paternity: Foetal Risks and Reproductive Harm

The Politics of Paternity: Foetal Risks and Reproductive Harm

(p.362) (p.363) The Politics of Paternity: Foetal Risks and Reproductive Harm
Law and Medicine

Cynthia Daniels

Janet Golden

Oxford University Press

This chapter highlights the paradigms of gender, medicine, and law that served first to expose and then to obscure the link between paternal behaviour and foetal harm. It asks how harm produced by and through men has historically shifted from the visible to the invisible. Taking the issue of alcohol and offspring as a starting point, it raises several questions. How is it that the idea of risk, as linked to alcohol consumption, shifted from a 19th-century crusade to control the behaviour of men to a 20th-century crusade to control the behaviour of pregnant women? What happened to the fears that men were drinking up the family wage and, if drunk during the act of conception, were begetting children who, it had been believed since ancient times, were ‘dull, stupid or diseased’? Why was medical evidence about the effects of maternal alcohol abuse on foetal development ignored for much of the 19th and 20th centuries? Why has medical evidence about the effects of paternal alcohol abuse on sperm been ignored for much of the late 20th century? It is argued that the answers reside in the gendered assumptions which help to construct paradigms of vulnerability and risk in medicine and law. They lie, as well, in the politics of ethnicity, race, and national identity — in 19th-century temperance campaigns to control the ‘undisciplined’ behaviour of immigrant men and in 20th-century campaigns to curb the reproductive behaviour, primarily, of Native American and African American women.

Keywords:   paternal behaviour, foetal harm, alcohol abuse, pregnant women, foetal development

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