Kelly Writers House will host an event with law professor and 1991 College graduate Wendy Bach on Thursday to discuss her new book, “Prosecuting Poverty, Criminalizing Care,” and her research.
KWH Faculty Director Al Filreis will host the conversation, which will take place at the Arts Café at 12 p.m. and will be livestreamed on YouTube. The event is free and open to the public, and lunch will be served.
Bach — an associate professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law — will begin the event by speaking about the book, which details how the Tennessee state government created, passed, and enforced a law that criminalized pregnant women who were victims of the opioid epidemic. The event will close with a Q&A with the audience members.
In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Bach said that her research and book were partly motivated by her experiences directly representing clients who were impacted by the same systems she later wrote about. She was approached by organizers six years ago regarding the Tennessee law, and was intrigued by the links between the poor and punishment, she said.
The topic of her book — known as the “fetal assault law” — was designed to legally punish pregnant women who were addicted to opiates before they could receive treatment and rehabilitation.
“Particularly when folks are Black or brown and living in poor communities, the help that we offer in those communities and to those people is often linked to punishment,” explained Bach. “I have seen this for decades in my representation.”
Bach said that after meeting Filreis during her time at Penn, she maintained contact with him over the years. She thought it would be an exciting opportunity to come back to her alma mater and talk about her first book, she added.
“Al’s still my professor, even though he’s my friend, and I’m a professor as well,” said Bach. “It’ll be kind of hilarious to feel like I’m walking into his classroom again.”
Filreis said he was motivated to invite Bach to speak at KWH after hearing about her new book while they were catching up.
“It’s self-evidently interesting what she’s working on,” said Filreis. “She’s tried to understand what the effect of this law was on women.”
The event on Thursday is part of the larger Sylvia W. Kauders Lunch Series, which was started by 1942 Penn graduate and late television actress Sylvia Kauders. She left behind an endowed fund for KWH that is intended to go towards all of the Kauders programs every year.
“She loved coming to [KWH] for our lunch programs,” said Filreis. He added that Kauders was admired the idea that “folks like her who lived in the neighborhood could come and sit and enjoy a really interesting conversation and have lunch.”