Guilty of having a working uterus

The Guardian outlines some of the ways a woman in various parts of America can be charged with murder:

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death – they charged her with the “depraved-heart murder” of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

She failed to prevent pregnancy while addicted to cocaine and then she failed to quit cocaine while pregnant. Ergo, the stillbirth of her child must be seen not as a tragic, spontaneous physiological event, but as a crime that earns her a life sentence.

Bei Bei Shuai, 34, has spent the past three months in a prison cell in Indianapolis charged with murdering her baby. On 23 December she tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison after her boyfriend abandoned her.

Shuai was rushed to hospital and survived, but she was 33 weeks pregnant and her baby, to whom she gave birth a week after the suicide attempt and whom she called Angel, died after four days. In March Shuai was charged with murder and attempted foeticide and she has been in custody since without the offer of bail.

If you’re pregnant in Indiana, you’d better not have any mental health problems. This is also the state which is now trying its darnedest to defund Planned Parenthood, so really, just try not to have a working uterus in Indiana unless your life is totally stable and baby-ready.

In Alabama, we have:

Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way. During her pregnancy her foetus was diagnosed with possible Down’s syndrome and doctors suggested she consider a termination, which Kimbrough declined as she is not in favour of abortion.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth.

Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with “chemical endangerment” of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy – a claim she has denied.

“That shocked me, it really did,” Kimbrough said. “I had lost a child, that was enough.”

She now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year sentence behind bars. “I’m just living one day at a time, looking after my three other kids,” she said. “They say I’m a criminal, how do I answer that? I’m a good mother.”

This one just makes my head spin. This woman refused an abortion, then her baby was delivered prematurely and died, and six months later, the cops rounded her up and took her away from her three older kids because she allegedly took drugs while pregnant. So I did a little Googling and I found this at NAPW:

Amici do not endorse the non-medicinal use of drugs–incluidng alcohol or tobacco–during pregnant. Nor do amici assert that there are no health risks associated with the use of methamphetamine or other controlled substances during pregnancy. Nonetheless, amici contend that the relevant medical and scientific research does not support the prosecution of Ms. Kimbrough for the crime of “chemical endangerment” and that such prosecutions undermine maternal and fetal health.

This is taken from a legal document, in which amici is used to mean “these here friends of the court.” So, their first assertion is basically that, while taking drugs during pregnancy is not good, the actual scientific evidence suggests that it falls far short of outright murdering a fetus.

In this case, the district attorney used the statute to prosecute Amanda Kimbrough on the scientifically unsupported claim that her infant died as a result of her drug use during pregnancy. Ms. Kimbrough experienced preterm labor during her twenty-fifth week of pregnancy and underwent emergency cesarean surgery to give birth to a child. The premature infant died nineteen minutes after birth.

At trial, Ms. Kimbrough was denied funding for experts necessary to challenge the claim that her drug use caused the infant death. Unable to present an effective defense without experts, she entered a conditional plea of guilty and was sentenced to ten years in prison, preserving her right to appeal a number of issues, including the expansion of the chemical endangerment statute to apply to the context of pregnancy, the denial of funding for experts, and numerous constitutional questions. Ms. Kimbrough’s case is one of four appeals currently pending before this Court where district attorneys have misconstrued the chemical endangerment statute to prosecute women who sought to go to term in spite of a drug problem.

Let’s go over this again: this woman went into labor at 25 weeks (an average pregnancy concludes at 40 weeks), which does occasionally happen, even to women who’ve never touched a controlled substance in their lives, submitted to major abdominal surgery in an attempt to get her baby out safely, and her extremely premature baby died anyway.

The court decided that her 25-week preemie died because its mother had a drug problem. And because this mother (with three older kids) had a drug problem, she needs to spend ten years in prison.

Finally, the prosecution and conviction of Ms. Kimbrough is based on assumptions about the effects of prenatal exposure to controlled substances that are not supported by evidence-based research and reflect a basic misunderstanding of the nature of drug dependency and the possible deterrent effect of prosecution. The medical community has long recognized that addiction is a medical condition that can respond successfully to treatment and is best addressed as a matter of public health, not criminal justice.

Emphasis mine.

Now, Ms. Kimbrough did have an in-hospital drug test which turned up positive for meth, and based on that test result, the district attorney decided that her meth use was responsible for her preterm labor. However,

Criminal proscription of methamphetamine relates to its potential for abuse and its potential to induce dependence, not to any proven unique risk to pregnant women, fetuses, or children. In fact, current research fails to support the conviction in this case. A national expert panel that reviewed published studies concerning the developmental effects of methamphetamine and related drugs concluded that “the data regarding illicit methamphetamine are insufficient to draw conclusions concerning developmental toxicity in humans.”

And so on, and so forth, there’s no solid evidence that using meth in pregnancy is any worse for the fetus than merely smoking cigarettes. It goes on to point out that drug addiction responds to treatment far better than to threats, and that Amanda Kimbrough was in need of medical help that was unavailable to her.

The Guardian article goes on to explain that “fetal homicide” laws were written ostensibly to protect pregnant women from assault by a third party, such as an abusive male partner. However,

South Carolina was one of the first states to introduce such a foetal homicide law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has found only one case of a South Carolina man who assaulted a pregnant woman having been charged under its terms, and his conviction was eventually overturned. Yet the group estimates there have been up to 300 women arrested for their actions during pregnancy.

One could theoretically argue that these laws are meant to tell us that pregnancy is serious business and that we shouldn’t go through with it unless we’re prepared to make healthy babies and raise healthy kids. Perhaps these law enforcement authorities want us to prevent, or even terminate pregnancies if we suffer from depression, drug addiction or domestic violence. Since so many state lawmakers, meanwhile, are competing to see who can make life the most difficult for women attempting to control their fertility, we should probably expect to see more women prosecuted for cases like this. That’ll mean more women unable to get on with their lives and have the families they want, and more kids growing up without their mothers.

All this, and I still hear “pro-lifers” arguing that outlawing abortion does NOT mean prosecuting the women who seek to terminate their pregnancies. No, no, of course not, it just means prosecuting the abortionists! Women are co-victims in the crime of abortion! No, women will have nothing to fear from overturning Roe v. Wade!

We already see that “protecting the unborn” means treating pregnant women like criminals, even when they want to birth and keep their babies. We already see that “fetal rights” means that women having less-than-ideal pregnancies are considered guilty until proven innocent. This is what happens when the state takes an interest in the “rights” of a fetus. The result is that pregnant women cannot be trusted, and their bodies are treated as crime scenes. Families are torn apart. Women cannot own their lives.

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