I was shocked today to browse The Guardian online newspaper and see the headline, “Outcry in America as pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges.” And yes that is shocking, but what really grabbed my attention is that I have not heard one bit about it in the American press. Outcry? Maybe there should be, but it’s not on the cover of the NY Times (which I would be reading if they didn’t want to charge me for it), I haven’t seen it on the news, I didn’t even know about it. Do I really have to go to British news outlets for U.S. stories that aren’t about terrorism or our bad economy? Well, I went on to read that in some southern states, women are being arrested for depraved heart murder, a “reckless disregard for human life” when they deliver stillborn, or their babies die a few days after birth, usually in cases of drug use.
I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Obviously, I don’t believe it’s right for mothers to intentionally use drugs while pregnant, even if that isn’t a crime in most places. However, as I read on, I have to say that callous disregard is not at the heart of this problem and criminalization seems a strange way to make change in the instances mentioned. In all the cases in which women are currently jailed, some for life sentences, there was ignorance, devastation, or simply questionable but not criminal behavior. In one case, for example, a pregnant 15 year old with a cocaine habit became pregnant, and her condition allegedly caused the termination of her pregnancy after 36 weeks. She faces life in prison under Mississippi law for second degree murder. I can’t imagine, first of all, how a 15 year old cocaine addict really has that much knowledge about which things will harm her baby, and which will not. Cocaine seems like a no-brainer to most of us, but until ten years ago smoking cigarettes was acceptable during pregnancy and caffeine is still a controversial one. Not only that but without expensive and professional help, no matter how much she may want to stop using, it may be impossible to get clean without secondary drugs, most of which would still harm the baby. The second case mentioned was an attempted suicide by a mother who survived, but her child did not. Now, instead of receiving mental health services which would (and should) be mandatory in any case of attempted suicide, she is facing murder charges. The blow came for me when another women was told her child had Down Syndrome, and doctors recommended abortion. She declined because she wanted to keep the child regardless, but then after giving birth premature the child died. She was arrested for allegedly using drugs to cause the death of her child, and faces a 10 year sentence. If this woman declined to abort her fetus when she could have done so without consequences, why would she use drugs to endanger the child’s life?
That is what makes the least sense. Abortion, the intentional termination of a pregnancy is not illegal, and yet the unintentional termination is being prosecuted. A lawyer defending some of these women puts it best,
“‘If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is,’ Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer asked the state supreme court.”
And I have to say, that doesn’t make any sense. Is our justice system trying to say that women should have abortions rather than try and keep their children if some unforeseeable consequence should occur like depression and suicide? Obviously not, since many politicians are trying to criminalize abortion as well. And since legislation is also attempting to de-fund Planned Parenthood and give funding exclusively to abstinence only education, it seems this country prefers that no one have any control over the outcome or possibility of pregnancy. I simply cannot see the point in turning our backs on making informed choices, looking at the facts, weighing our options, and then making a huge decision like bringing a child into this world.
This article got it half right. Yes, this issue deserves a voice; but no, there is no outcry in America even if there should be. We are too worried that gay people are ruining the sanctity of marriage to care about the fate of motherhood. We are so concerned with our debt ceiling that we ignore frivolous lawsuits and continue excessive spending. Instead, we have to strip our society of useful information about sex, criminalize those who can’t get it right without any resources, and put those struggling mothers in jail. We should start that outcry now.