If stillbirth is murder, does miscarriage make pregnant ladies into criminals?

7 and a half many years in the past, a Mississippi teenager named Rennie Gibbs went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn baby woman named Samiya. Initially, authorities attributed the baby’s death to the umbilical cord wrapped all around her neck. But when traces of a cocaine byproduct showed up on the autopsy report, a healthcare examiner declared the stillbirth a homicide and cited cocaine toxicity as the lead to. Shortly afterward, the sixteen-12 months-old Gibbs was charged with murder, particularly “depraved heart murder”, a charge that can carry a sentence of up to twenty many years to existence in prison.

Given that her grand-jury indictment in 2007, Gibbs’s group of attorneys has been fighting for the fees to be dropped on both technical and legal grounds. The defense argues that there is no scientific proof that cocaine use can lead to a stillbirth – and that the “depraved heart murder” statute did not apply to unborn children at the time of Samiya’s death. A selection is expected any day now as to no matter whether the Gibbs situation will lastly proceed to trial or get dismissed. If it does go to trial, and Gibbs is convicted of murder for getting sixteen and pregnant, then a unsafe precedent might be established that need to make anyone with a uterus come to feel quite afraid.

This week, I spoke with a single of Gibbs’s attorneys, Robert McDuff, who advised me that he volunteered his services to the public defender assigned to the case back in 2009 because he was concerned about the implications for women all over the place if the prosecution is profitable:

It’s ridiculous that this teenager is being prosecuted for a murder charge not justified by both law or science. If she can be experimented with for allegedly taking drugs throughout her pregnancy, what is to end other women who miscarry or endure a stillbirth from becoming prosecuted simply because they smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol or just did not adhere to their doctor’s orders?

Central to the Gibbs situation is whether or not her alleged cocaine use directly caused her baby’s stillbirth. A latest ProPublica investigation by Nina Martin goes into some detail on this aspect, outlining serious doubts surrounding the health care examiner’s conclusion that medication had been the lead to of death. The reliability of the examiner’s work has been called into query prior to, and at least four murder convictions based mostly on his proof have been overturned.

Beyond the Mississippi justice program, the back links between drug use and stillbirths remains sketchy at ideal: there is no conclusive evidence that cocaine use in fact harms fetuses – or at least harms them irreparably. A 25-yr study that followed infants born to crack-addicted mothers discovered that even though youngsters had been slow to create, the figuring out factor was not their mothers’ gestational cocaine use so significantly as the poverty in which they had been raised. This is not to say that smoking crack or smoking anything at all is recommended throughout pregnancy – a current National Institutes of Overall health review did locate that smoking cigarettes or taking drugs can increase the risk of a stillbirth.

But must females who engage in unhealthy activities for the duration of their pregnancies genuinely be criminalized – to life in prison – if they fail to make a healthier infant? If so, the place do you draw that line?

Just believe for a 2nd exactly where such a policy could lead us. Like numerous girls of her time, and numerous girls because, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis smoked whilst she was pregnant. Jackie-O had a historical past of troubled pregnancies – at least one particular miscarriage, a stillborn daughter and infant Patrick, who barely survived two days. Individuals losses induced the Kennedy family members tremendous discomfort. Now picture if an overzealous prosecutor made a decision that Jackie’s smoking had harmed the infants and indicted the First Lady on murder costs.

Such a scenario may well appear far-fetched indeed, for a female in the Kennedy demographic, it is. But for poor females – particularly bad black ladies suspected of drug use who fail to carry infants to term – criminalization is presently a popular sport. Final year, the Nationwide Advocates for Pregnant Girls (NAPW) launched a examine detailing hundreds of cases of ladies who have been arrested and imprisoned when they suffered stillbirths or miscarriages because of the anti-feticide laws that are in location in most states.

These laws, in 38 states, had been meant to protect pregnant women and the babies they carry from attacks by third parties. Increasingly, they are being utilised to prosecute the pregnant females alternatively. In accordance to NAPW executive director Lynn Paltrow, 99% of the situations the group documented never ever went to trial. The females basically pled guilty and accepted the punishment meted out to them. This is why Paltrow believes this week’s Gibbs decision is so critical – since a conviction would only embolden prosecutors and would location many, several more women at chance. As she advised me:

By creating the end result of pregnancy a crime, we would establish a principle that the minute a female conceives, every little thing she does can be perceived as attempted murder or attempted assault. Not taking enough bed rest could be interpreted as attempted assault. Inform a psychiatrist you are suicidal, and they could report you for attempted murder.

There is nonetheless a respectable likelihood a Mississippi judge could throw out the case of Rennie Gibbs. But if it does proceed, she will be the 1st girl in the state – and potentially the country – to in fact face a trial for murder following suffering a stillbirth. That is the mass criminalization of pregnancy, and that is a battle in the “War on Ladies” we shouldn’t even have to battle.

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