Get access

The Race and Class Privilege of Motherhood: TheNew York Times Presentations of Pregnant Drug-Using Women1


  • Kristen W. Springer

    Search for more papers by this author
    • 2

      Department of Sociology and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, Rutgers University, 54 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854; e-mail:, and Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars Program, Columbia University, 722 West 168th Street, New York, New York 10032.

  • 1

    I thank Myra Marx Ferree for urging me to continue this project, for her steadfast guidance, and for her insightful comments. I thank Chioun Lee, Brian Emerson McCormick, Jane Miller, and Dawne Mouzon, for their research assistance and advice. I also thank the Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars Program for financial support. Finally, I thank Karen Cerulo and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and constructive feedback.


Prior research has examined race and class bias embedded in media presentations of pregnant drug users; however, this past research is limited in identifying biases because it focuses on single substances—primarily crack cocaine. I build on this work by conducting a comparative analysis of more than 15 years worth of New York Times articles on three drugs (crack cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco) used during pregnancy. These three drugs have varying levels of deleterious effects on fetal development and infant health, as well as varying levels of use by poor and minority women. Because of this variation, I am able to assess whether media coverage of pregnant drug-using women is proportional to the documented adverse consequences of specific drugs or, rather, whether media coverage is higher and more negative for poor and minority pregnant women regardless of the degree of adverse health consequences associated with the specific drug used. Through this analysis, I demonstrate that the prevalence and framing of news stories about pregnant drug-using women has little to do with protecting the health of children. Rather, concern for children is a rhetorical tool used to define poor and minority women as bad mothers and blame them for contemporary changes in families.

Get access to the full text of this article