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Pregnant Women Who Lose Babies Face Criminal Charges In Mississippi, Alabama

By Marie Diamond on July 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

"Pregnant Women Who Lose Babies Face Criminal Charges In Mississippi, Alabama"

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This year, the Georgia legislature considered a bill that would require women to prove their miscarriages “occurred naturally” and weren’t secret abortions. In a similar vein, the Guardian reports that states including Mississippi and Alabama are charging dozens of women with murder or other serious crimes who have miscarried or had stillbirths:

Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.[...]

In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state’s “chemical endangerment” law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine in the home and thus putting their children at risk from inhaling the fumes. Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way.[...]

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.”

Kimbrough is now facing a 10-year sentence if her case is not reversed on appeal — a 10 year sentence that will deprive her three other children of their mother.

A common tactic by prosecutors is singling out a group of women who are unlikely to draw public sympathy — women who may have used drugs while pregnant — to blur the line between abortion and homicide. Rennie Gibbs, for example, was 15 when she became pregnant and lost her baby in a stillbirth. Prosecutors charged her with a “depraved heart murder” after they discovered she had used cocaine, although there was “no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death.” She now faces life in prison in Mississippi.

Targeting women who use drugs while they are pregnant is exactly the wrong policy for protecting the health of their future children. When a woman who is addicted to drug becomes pregnant, she needs immediate treatment to ensure that her addiction does not lead to serious birth defects for her child. But the threat of criminal prosecution — especially for a crime as serious as murder — will only drive her into the shadows. For this reason, dozens of public health organizations including the American Public Health Association have all denounced these prosecutions as harmful to both woman and child.

Other prosecutors are twisting laws designed to protect pregnant women and their unborn children into attacks on childbearers themselves. At least 38 states have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to be used against violent attacks by third parties like abusive male partners. But in South Carolina, only one case has been brought against a man for assaulting a pregnant woman, while up to 300 women have been arrested under the law, according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

These prosecutions are part of a much broader assault on women’s reproductive rights. Indeed, it’s been a banner year for the right’s war on women, with state legislatures passing a slew of restrictive legislation across the country that not only impede women’s constitutional right to abortions but also jeopardize their access to basic health care. Four states have defunded Planned Parenthood so far, a new Ohio law bans abortions as early as six weeks without exceptions for rape or incest, and Texas is one of several states that now forces women seeking abortions to undergo waiting periods and mandatory sonograms. Some groups and lawmakers are even pushing to outlaw contraceptives like birth control pills.

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