Is it wise to criminalize women who use drugs during pregnancy? You might think that would discourage women from going to doctors while pregnant if they are using drugs. While the state does have a “safe harbor” law (explained in the text below), a woman can still be charged in the event of a still birth.
More worrying is the idea of criminalizing conduct during pregnancy. What about smoking or drinking? or not eating right? or not following the doctor’s instructions? Once states start enacting laws along these lines, where is the bright line drawn that will stop further criminalization?
Criminalizing anything is an important decision. It would make for a better judgment on the matter if data, studies for instance, was sought before such laws were passed. This one was a rush job. That is seldom a good idea. The passage of a little time after a controversy makes for a better decision.
Tennessee legislature passes bill to criminalize pregnancy: Women who have stillbirths after using illegal drugs may be charged.
Prosecutors have become quite fond of stretching the reach of child abuse and even murder laws to punish pregnant women for failing to deliver live or healthy babies, usually because those women used drugs during pregnancy. (Though not always.) Often the fact that the laws being used to prosecute are clearly not meant to address what women do to their own bodies while pregnant causes the cases to collapse. For instance, a recent Mississippi case I wrote about involving a mother charged with murder after her baby was stillborn was tossed out by a judge who ruled that the law wasn’t meant to apply to situations such as hers.
Well, the Tennessee legislature decided to fix this problem by passing a bill through both houses that would give prosecutors broad rights to press abuse charges against women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy and then give birth to unhealthy or stillborn babies. According to RH Reality Check, if the governor of Tennessee signs the bill, it will be the first law like it in the country. The law is a reaction to the passage of the Safe Harbor Act last year, an actually good bill that allows pregnant women with drug problems to seek treatment with the knowledge that Child Protective Services will not take their babies away because of it. (The women do have to stick to the program to keep that assurance.) But law enforcement insisted on retaining the right to throw a woman in jail—even if she has stuck with the treatment program—if the baby is born with problems and they decide that it must have been the drugs that did it.
From Around the Web.
From the web site, The Free.
To paraphrase George Dubya: misogynists never stop thinking of ways to harm women, and neither does America. The latest joyous news from the motherland (a term I use advisedly) is that troubled women are being prosecuted for murder after suffering miscarriages or still-births. This is more than insane. It’s baffling. Despite the pro-life palaver America doesn’t generally give a damn about post-natal child welfare………
……..Rennie Gibbs was just 16 when her baby was stillborn. The state is trying her as an adult, for murder, alleging that the still-birth was caused by cocaine use. For some mush-headed moralists this is enough (“What kind of terrible human being takes drugs while pregnant?” etc.) Before galloping off on their high-horse, however, they should consider the fact that all sorts of things cause miscarriage and still-birth. As the Gibbs brief notes: People wrongly believe that women have a high degree of control over their pregnancy outcomes. The longstanding and constant medical reality, however, is that as many as 20-30 percent of all pregnancies will end in miscarriage or stillbirth.
Not just crackhead pregnancies, teen pregnancies, women-of-colour pregnancies, or unwed pregnancies – all pregnancies. Including those of law-abiding suburban wives who drive SUVs and take their vitamins. The difference is the latter are more likely to get flowers than be slapped with a murder charge. The Gibbs brief spells it out: “Low income women… [are] particularly vulnerable to punishment” (italics mine).