Jewish World Review Dec 30, 2004 / 18 Teves 5765

Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Pregnancy murder needs study, not sensationalism | Last week, the Washington Post ran a series on its front page for three days in a row. The report by journalist Donna St. George was entitled "Pregnancy and Homicide: The Known Toll" and featured color photographs of multiple victims.

St. George wrote, "Many women were slain at home -- in bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens -- usually by men they knew. Husbands. Boyfriends. Lovers." The series clearly implies that there is an unacknowledged epidemic of "maternal murder" being committed by intimates.

Maternal murder is a heart-wrenching issue that demands attention, but the Post's report smacks of tabloid sensationalism. With supermarket headlines like "Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent Deaths," the Post may be needlessly scaring women away from pregnancy itself while failing to inform them of the real risk factors for becoming a maternal murder victim. (The definition of "maternal homicide" includes murders occurring 12 months after delivery and random violence.)

On forums across the Internet, women are discussing the series.

One wrote, "I'd like to marry and have children in the near future. Is there any way to protect myself when I'm expecting so I don't end up a statistic like these unfortunates? Should I carry a weapon with me, should I take self-defense courses, or what? I'm scared."

The Post series opens reasonably enough. St. George admits that there is no real data and "no reliable track such cases." She appears to be interested in exploring "pregnancy and homicide: how often it happens, why, and whether it is a fluke or a social syndrome."

Answering such questions is difficult because the FBI, most state agencies and police departments do not collect data on maternal homicides.

Accordingly, St. George consulted state records, such as death certificates, and found 1,367 cases over 14 years, or 98 per year.

From this point onward, the report begins to go wrong. St. George extrapolates from one study conducted in Maryland to conclude that "it [the study] would suggest about 295 maternal homicides nationwide a year."

Accepting that figure at face value, Jack Shafer editor-at-large at Slate --ran the math and found that "if you were to murder women in this age bracket at random, 10 percent of your victims would be pregnant." In short, pregnant women would be no more or less likely to be murdered.

But the figure should be questioned.

A 2002 General Accounting Office report, "Data on Pregnant Victims and Effectiveness of Prevention Strategies Are Limited," warns that figures on maternal homicide "lack comparability.... Estimates...cannot be generalized or projected to all pregnant women."

Current studies vary too widely in methodology, conclusions and far too often in the agendas propelling research.

Donate to JWR

St. George's report 72 cases for in-depth research and found "that nearly two-thirds...had a strong relation to pregnancy or involved a domestic-violence clash in which pregnancy may have been a factor."

How the cases were selected or whether they are representative is not indicated.

The remainder of the series is mostly devoted to lurid accounts of maternal homicides by male intimates or to heartbreaking stories of children -- mostly of one child -- "rescued from the wombs of their dying mothers."

Amid the raw emotionalism, unnamed experts are often referenced.

St. George writes, "many experts have come to agree that ...160,000 to 320,000 [pregnant women] a year -- are physically hurt by husbands, boyfriends or partners."

Which experts? And if their "agreement" is based on reliable data, why the huge range in the numbers?

Quick references to studies in several states are also interspersed.

The sloppy research and reporting serves women badly. St. George creates alarm and the appearance of an "epidemic" without providing the context that is necessary to understand any statistic.

For example, the reader is not told whether "maternal homicides" are more common than the murder of comparable non-pregnant women. Assuming murder is the highest non-natural cause of death in pregnant women, is this due the relatively young age of the mothers and medical advances?

Moreover, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that the total number of women murdered has been declining since 1993.

The DOJ also finds that the number of women murdered by "intimates" (a spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend) has also fallen since 1993.

Are maternal homicides somehow rising as the other categories fall?

These are the type of hard facts and answers that women need to know.

St. George does women an additional disservice by calling pregnancy in and of itself a risk factor for homicide. Richard L. Davis of Family Nonviolence Inc. takes St. George to task for her misuse of one study and for ignoring the "real relevant risk factors" relating to maternal murder.

Davis first establishes solid numbers. He writes, "The Massachusetts study documents that for every 100,000 births, 9 women died from injury related causes" and notes that about 1/3 of those deaths were "intimate partner homicides."

Thus, the risk of becoming a maternal homicide victim is about 3 in 100,000.

Next, he indicates risk factors: "black non-Hispanic women during this time span were 10 times more likely to be murdered than white non-Hispanic women...For white non-Hispanic women it was not homicides, but motor vehicle collision that was the leading cause of injury related death."

Poverty seemed be a strong factor, with a National Institute of Justice study agreeing that "couples living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, facing job instability and economic distress are at higher levels of probabilities of violence."

Women need facts on the risks and their risk factors. For example, police departments should be pushed to maintain detailed records of maternal homicides. Instead, the Post's report offers deeply flawed research and scare tactics

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Wendy McElroy is the editor of She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada. Comment by clicking here.


09/23/04: Wage gap reflects women's priorities
09/15/04: Mandatory mental health screening threatens privacy, parental rights
07/08/04: Utah's Parent Czar
07/01/04: Jackpot Justice, the Wal-Mart suit
06/24/04: The decline of affirmative action
06/10/04: How to form an informed opinion
05/13/04: Do fraternities deserve their bad reputations?
04/30/04: Facts or propaganda? Deconstructing advocacy
03/26/04: Reading between the numbers
03/11/04: When ‘mother’ is a bureaucracy
03/04/04: Do Gun Control Activists Pad Gun Death Statistics?
02/26/04: The Separation of School and State
01/21/04: A Man's (and Woman's) Home Is a Castle
12/17/04: The Conservative Cookie Rebellion
11/26/03: Zero Patience for Zero Tolerance
10/22/03: Killing the Good Samaritan
10/08/03: Collective western guilt burdens today's children
10/01/03: Families pay price for government spending
09/24/03: Do Poor Fathers Deserve Debtors' Prison?
08/29/03: Going to extremes
08/23/03: The Marriage Strike
07/30/03: University Students Deserve Human Rights
07/09/03: The PCspeak of Diversity
07/02/03: Rebuttable presumption of joint custody
06/18/03: A Conscientious Objector to the Gender War
06/04/03: Gender issues impacted by masculinists
05/28/03: The value of error
05/21/03: U.S. to Fund Gender Feminism in Africa?
05/14/03: Cut men: Do they not bleed?
05/07/03: Women with guns fight back
04/30/03: No oil for food
04/28/03: The Great Lie
04/16/03: War may redefine gun control
04/09/03: Why we must discuss a post-war U.S.
04/02/03: Leftist feminists using war as podium
03/26/03: Laying down 'the white woman's burden'
03/19/03: Iraq War may kill feminism as we know it
03/13/03: A woman to replace Saddam
02/19/03: Elder abuse demands family solutions
02/13/03: Iraqi women brutalized by Saddam
01/29/03: There ought not to be a law
01/22/03: Gambling with race and gender cards
01/02/03: The future of fatherhood
12/26/02: U.N. complicit in forced sterilizations
12/20/02: Compassion, kindness killed by fear, paranoia
12/11/02: Affirmative action insults immigrant contributions
12/04/02: Stand up for yourself
11/27/02: Feminist fighting: Aren't we all women?
11/20/02: Rights & responsibilities
11/14/02: Feminist "urban legends"
11/06/02: Equal access does not guarantee equal outcome
10/24/02: Battered Women's Syndrome: Science or sham?
10/17/02: I demand a civil society that respects the individual and acknowledges the existence of honest disagreement between human beings of good will
10/09/02: Abortion debate is about to be ratcheted up yet again
10/02/02: 'Restorative justice' offers battered women more options
09/25/02: Why is prez promising to embrace UN radical social engineering programs?
09/18/02: Dirty dealings kill men's panel
09/11/02: Taking back your power
09/05/02: Calm down, Hootie!
08/21/02: Will Congress empower a group of radical feminists to oversee money slated for Afghan women?
08/14/02: Empower the U.N. with power to sculpt American laws and institutions into the image of gender feminism!?
08/01/02: Practicing 'intellectual virtue'
07/24/02: All male, bad. All female, good: Your tax dollars at work
07/11/02: Put Up or Shut Up
07/03/02: NOW they've done it, again!
06/19/02: A dark cloud shades U.N. Women's Treaty
06/10/02: This Father's Day, send justice
05/31/02: When good women do nothing
05/28/02: Feminists claiming motherhood as liberal cause
05/20/02: Wounds in health care system are self-inflicted: Or, why "my son the lawyer" makes more sense
05/10/02: Are parents boycotting public schools?
05/03/02: Women can't be gun-shy about defense
04/25/02: The Bill of Intellectual Rights
04/19/02: World Bank or World Government?: The World Bank is blackmailing impoverished nations
04/12/02: Victims From Birth: Engineering Defects in Helpless Children Crosses the Line
04/05/02: The professor made me cry, now I will make him pay!
03/31/02: Doctors and teens --- parents be on guard
03/22/02: I was born, now I'm suing you!
03/15/02: The 21st Century is knocking at the barricaded door of feminism
03/08/02: Fun and games at the Ms mag Bulletin Board
03/01/02: Andrea Yates, NOW, and Feminist Jurisprudence
02/22/02: Lady, Your Slip is Showing
02/14/02: 'Abusing' Valentine's Day
02/11/02: Is NOW Pro-Choice or Pro-Abortion?
02/01/02: Are 'fathers' rights' a factor in male suicide?
01/25/02: Is the U.N. Running Brothels in Bosnia?
01/18/02: 'Freedom' at another's (moral) expense
01/11/02: Feminists hit Ground Zero with WTC funds grab
01/04/02: Males winning "diversity discrimination" cases is good?
12/21/01: Good will toward men
12/14/01: "Boss Tweed" feminism
12/07/01: Call me 'anti-woman'

© 2004, Wendy McElroy