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Pregnant women often complain that strangers will touch their bellies. In some cases, it may be illegal.
Unwanted touching of any kind is the legal foundation for battery, but it often takes more than a simple touch or nudge to turn something like a belly rub into a criminal offense.
With that in mind, here are several good legal reasons for strangers not to touch pregnant women's bellies:
To be clear, there is currently no law in Pennsylvania which explicitly outlines a criminal offense for unconsented pregnant-belly touching. However, a Cumberland County man apparently did face potential harassment charges for touching a stranger's pregnant belly, according to news reports.
A Pennsylvania attorney (who was not involved with the case) told CNN that a woman had successfully filed charges against the alleged belly-toucher under Pennsylvania's harassment laws. Under these laws, as long as physical contact has the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm the other person, even a gentle rub can be a criminal offense. (It's not clear how the Pennsylvania case was resolved.)
Since this law, and other similar harassment statutes in other states, require there to be an intent to annoy, harass, or alarm, there aren't likely to be criminal charges filed for making an honest mistake. New York's WCBS-TV reports that in Brazil and Turkey, it may be more common or even cultural for strangers to touch pregnant women's bellies.
Acknowledging cultural differences about personal space, it is not advisable for you to lovingly touch a strange woman's stomach. But if the woman rebuffs your attempt to touch her or otherwise asks you to stop, it may be considered harassment to continue trying to touch her pregnant belly.
In sum: One touch, probably not illegal. Anything more, you may be playing with fire.
While even the lightest touch can put you in danger of a harassment charge, any force at all on a pregnant mother's stomach is likely to draw a criminal battery charge.
Slaps, pokes, or other rough gestures that treats a pregnant woman less like a person and more like a questionably ripe melon are to be avoided. Not only could you end up charged with a violent crime, you may unintentionally injure the woman's child.
Respect a pregnant woman's personal space. If you feel compelled to touch her belly in any, ask permission first.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.