A year-long examination by the Washington Post of death-record data across the country documents the killings of 1,367 pregnant women and new mothers since 1990. This is only part of the national toll. Largely invisible, it is a phenomenon that is as consequential as it is poorly understood. Even in the past two years — as the Laci Peterson homicide case has become a public fascination, little has been said about the larger convergence of pregnancy and homicide: how often it happens, why, and whether it is a fluke or a social syndrome.
Until recently, many cases have gone unstudied, uncounted, untracked. Police agencies across the country do not regularly ask about maternal status when they investigate homicides. Health experts have focused historically on the medical complications of pregnancy — embolism, hemorrhage, infection — not on fatal violence. “It’s very hard to connect the dots when you don’t even see the dots,” said Elaine Alpert, a public health expert at Boston University. “It’s only just starting to be recognized that there is a trend or any commonalities between these deaths.” The Post’s analysis shows that the killings span racial and ethnic groups. In cases whose details are known, 67 percent of women were killed with firearms. Many women were slain at home — in bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens — usually by men they knew. The cases are not commonplace compared with other homicides but are more frequent than most people know — and have changed the way some experts think about pregnancy.