Women who miscarry a pregnancy could face imprisonment if Mississippi has its way. The state Supreme Court is set to rule on whether or not the state can arrest women for delivering a stillborn or losing a pregnancy any time throughout the nine-month period of time a fetus is developing.
According to Mother Jones, the current case involves a woman named Nina Buckhalter, who was arrested in 2009 for giving birth to a stillborn baby. Devastated, Nina named the baby Hayley and was arrested two months later for manslaughter. The grand jury found that the 29-year-old woman “willfully, unlawfully, feloniously” killed “a human being by culpable negligence” because she had a trace amount of methamphetamines in her system.
If the state Supreme Court rules that Nina can be prosecuted for having a stillbirth, it opens the door for Mississippi to charge any woman who has a miscarriage for murder. Mississippi is the one conservative state at the epicenter of the war against abortion. Anti-abortion activists and politicians have made effort upon effort to define a fetus as a human being so they can charge women who have abortions with murder, therefore making abortion illegal.
Despite finding meth in her system, evidence proving that the drug caused the stillbirth is extremely thin. From the Mother Jones piece:
The cause of any given miscarriage or stillbirth is difficult to determine, and many experts believe there is no conclusive evidence that exposure to drugs in utero can cause a miscarriage or stillbirth. Because of this, prosecuting Buckhalter opens the door to investigating and prosecuting women for any number of other potential causes of a miscarriage or stillbirth, her lawyers argued in a filing to the state Supreme Court—”smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, exercising against doctor’s orders, or failing to follow advice regarding conditions such as obesity or hypertension.” Supreme Court Justice Leslie D. King also raised this question in the oral arguments last month: “Doctors say women should avoid herbal tea, things like unpasteurized cheese, lunch meats. Exactly what are the boundaries?”
And that’s precisely why this case must be dismissed. A ruling in favor of the prosecution allows state officials to invade the privacy of pregnant women. Are we going to investigate every pregnant woman to make sure they’re drinking herbal tea and eating lunch meat? Will they be arrested if they are? Will pregnant women now be forced to be under surveillance to make sure they do nothing that could complicate a pregnancy? Will a cop be assigned to each and every pregnant woman to watch them 24-hours a day for nine months?
Worse yet, such a ruling could allow authorities in Mississippi to prosecute women who have had a legal abortion. Women who take the morning-after pill could also be subject to arrest, even though the drug is legal and approved for women as young as 15. This ruling may very well end up banning abortion in Mississippi: if a woman can be jailed for losing a wanted pregnancy, clearly she can be imprisoned for ending a pregnancy on purpose.
This kind of invasion of privacy is exactly what Republicans claim they oppose, yet they seem to have no problem being hypocrites when it comes to women. It’s outrageous and shreds the constitutional rights of actual human beings who are protected by law. This is why only “all persons born” have rights. Any woman could have a miscarriage or stillbirth. It happens every day. In fact, approximately 500,000 pregnancies result in a miscarriage every year in the US. Should we investigate and prosecute each woman who has one? Not only is such an idea ridiculous, it’s a violation of privacy and a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Such actions also place more emotional and mental stress on women who just lost a pregnancy. That’s heartbreaking enough as it is; the last thing a woman needs is to be harassed by the state over it.
But the story gets worse. In Mississippi’s obsession with punishing women for losing pregnancies, they could literally be taking a mother away from her child. In the past four years since the case against her began, Buckhalter cleaned up her life, attended college, earned a degree, and gave birth to a child. In short, Mississippi is seeking to imprison Buckhalter for a stillbirth that may or may not have been due to meth, thereby depriving her living, breathing child of its mother. How heartless is that?
Last time I checked, inconclusive evidence does not land people in prison and we certainly should not jail women who lose pregnancies through no fault of their own. Miscarriages and stillbirths happen naturally all the time. We shouldn’t punish women for losing pregnancies. That’s the kind of thing that belongs in the Middle Ages, not 21st century America.