July 2, 2011

Pregnant Women who Miscarry Facing Criminal Charges

As is often the case when I come across something profoundly messed up, I have no idea what to say about this article except that you should read it and also note how profoundly messed up it is. Today, it's an article from ThinkProgress about pregnant women in the South facing criminal charges for losing their babies.

Kimbrough [who was charged under a "chemical endangerment" law after her child died shortly after birth] 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.

ThinkProgress rightly notes that targeting women who use drugs legally is exactly the wrong strategy - rather than encouraging women to seek out pre-natal health care to help them get off drugs and have better health outcomes for themselves and their children, it forces them to hide and put themselves and their children at greater risk. But it's more than the practical outcomes of the policy that's bothering me.

I remember in my women's studies class a few semesters ago reading an article about how our culture wants to control pregnant women's bodies. We tell them not to drink, not to eat too much of this or too little of that, to get some kinds of exercise but not others, or OMG THEIR BABY IS GOING TO BE RUINED FOREVER. And obviously, maternal health and prenatal health is important, so to some extent all that is probably helpful. But...

We have serious problems with maternal and prenatal health in our country. We have high maternal mortality rates and high infant mortality rates, so all of our yelling at women about what to do and not to do doesn't seem to be working.

And maybe micro-managing women's behavior, from bombarding them with parenting books to arresting them when they fail to meet our intense standards for how they should treat their bodies, isn't the best strategy. Maybe more access to pre-natal care, childcare, education, birth control... maybe those things would be a better idea than insisting on controlling women's bodies but giving them no resources.

I think really, what I want to say, is that it's not the government's business if I were pregnant and drank or took drugs or whatever. It's sad. It's a failure of my own health and the health of my child, but in that case it should be a health issue, not a legal one.

1 comment:

Foxie said...

They're doing it again! Don't question the system, force all responsibility onto the individual!

Connected to this, kind of, you might like this post of Athena's: http://www.starshipnivan.com/blog/?p=4277

The zombie mother comic is brilliant.