Accounting for Fetal Death: Vital Statistics and the Medicalization of Pregnancy in the United States

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Social Science & Medicine



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Recent reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have decried the high rate of fetal mortality in the contemporary United States. Much of the data about fetal and infant deaths, as well as other poor pregnancy outcomes, are tabulated and tracked through vital statistics. In this article, I demonstrate how notions of fetal death became increasingly tied to the surveillance of maternal bodies through the tabulating and tracking of vital statistics in the middle part of the twentieth century. Using a historical analysis of the revisions to the United States Standard Certificate of Live Birth, and the United States Standard Report of Fetal Death, I examine how the categories of analysis utilized in these documents becomes integrally linked to contemporary ideas about fetal and perinatal death, gestational age, and prematurity. While it is evident that there are relationships between maternal behavior and birth outcomes, in this article I interrogate the ways in which the surveillance of maternal bodies through vital statistics has naturalized these relationships. Copyright 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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