Outcry in America as pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges

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Outcry in America as pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges

 

Guardian, June 24, 2011 - Women's rights campaigners see the creeping criminalisation of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion

 

Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby. But her case is by no means isolated. Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.

"Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws," said Lynn Paltrow of the campaign National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). "It's turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights."

Bei Bei Shuai, 34, has spent the past three months in a prison cell in Indianapolis charged with murdering her baby. On 23 December she tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison after her boyfriend abandoned her.

Shuai was rushed to hospital and survived, but she was 33 weeks pregnant and her baby, to whom she gave birth a week after the suicide attempt and whom she called Angel, died after four days. In March Shuai was charged with murder and attempted foeticide and she has been in custody since without the offer of bail.

In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state's "chemical endangerment" law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine in the home and thus putting their children at risk from inhaling the fumes.

Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way. During her pregnancy her foetus was diagnosed with possible Down's syndrome and doctors suggested she consider a termination, which Kimbrough declined as she is not in favour of abortion.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth.

Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with "chemical endangerment" of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy – a claim she has denied.

"That shocked me, it really did," Kimbrough said. "I had lost a child, that was enough."

She now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year sentence behind bars. "I'm just living one day at a time, looking after my three other kids," she said. "They say I'm a criminal, how do I answer that? I'm a good mother."

Women's rights campaigners see the creeping criminalisation of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion, in which conservative prosecutors are chipping away at hard-won freedoms by stretching protection laws to include foetuses, in some cases from the day of conception. In Gibbs' case defence lawyers have argued before Mississippi's highest court that her prosecution makes no sense. Under Mississippi law it is a crime for any person except the mother to try to cause an abortion.

"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.

McDuff told the Guardian that he hoped the Gibbs prosecution was an isolated example. "I hope it's not a trend that's going to catch on. To charge a woman with murder because of something she did during pregnancy is really unprecedented and quite extreme."

He pointed out that anti-abortion groups were trying to amend the Mississippi constitution by setting up a state referendum, or ballot initiative, that would widen the definition of a person under the state's bill of rights to include a foetus from the day of conception.

Some 70 organisations across America have come together to file testimonies, known as amicus briefs, in support of Gibbs that protest against her treatment on several levels. One says that to treat "as a murderer a girl who has experienced a stillbirth serves only to increase her suffering".

Another, from a group of psychologists, laments the misunderstanding of addiction that lies behind the indictment. Gibbs did not take cocaine because she had a "depraved heart" or to "harm the foetus but to satisfy an acute psychological and physical need for that particular substance", says the brief.

Perhaps the most persuasive argument put forward in the amicus briefs is that if such prosecutions were designed to protect the unborn child, then they would be utterly counter-productive: "Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties. The state could not have intended this result when it adopted the homicide statute."

Paltrow sees what is happening to Gibbs as a small taste of what would be unleashed were the constitutional right to an abortion ever overturned. "In Mississippi the use of the murder statute is creating a whole new legal standard that makes women accountable for the outcome of their pregnancies and threatens them with life imprisonment for murder."

From protection to punishment

At least 38 of the 50 states across America have introduced foetal homicide laws that were intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks by third parties – usually abusive male partners – but are increasingly being turned by renegade prosecutors against the women themselves.

South Carolina was one of the first states to introduce such a foetal homicide law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has found only one case of a South Carolina man who assaulted a pregnant woman having been charged under its terms, and his conviction was eventually overturned. Yet the group estimates there have been up to 300 women arrested for their actions during pregnancy.

In other states laws designed to protect children against the damaging effects of drugs have similarly been twisted to punish childbearers.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/24/america-pregnant-women-murder-charges

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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I want to emigrate.  That's

I want to emigrate.  That's it - they are all crazy here.  Anyone willing to sponsor me?

 

I'm not sure I'm joking.

 

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The biggest irony is that

The biggest irony is that these laws will probably motivate some women to have an abortion.

"Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties." 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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butterbattle wrote:The

butterbattle wrote:

The biggest irony is that these laws will probably motivate some women to have an abortion.

"Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties." 

 

Many people do not remember now, or did not ask their relatives old enough to remember about when abortions were illegal in many states.  And most people I have talked to say, but we want to prosecute the bad person who performed the abortion, not the mother.  And they get really upset if I am mean enough to point out in many cases it is the mother who performs the abortion and without assistance.

Over 300 cases prosecuted already - and only one of them a man, the rest were the mothers.  What next, prosecuted for preeclampsia?

"The exact causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia are not known, although some researchers suspect poor nutrition, high body fat, or insufficient blood flow to the uterus as possible causes."

http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/preeclampsia-eclampsia

I will have to try to avoid this thread, sorry, Butter.  Raises my blood pressure.

 

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

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Disturbing

Man, this is disturbing and frightening to read about. I live real close to the state of Mississippi and can attest that it is almost forty years back in time when it comes to being run by churches and right-wing fanatic theists.

Here in the state of Tennessee, where I currently reside, the state government has practically declared war on Planned Parenthood and is doing all they can to try and cripple the organization.  Just the other day, I saw smirking, arrogant, pricks on the city council talking to the news about how they are doing all they can to "wipe this sin from the state".

If I wanted to live in a theocracy, I would move to Iran.

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Vive la Revolution!

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Let the women out, and throw

Let the women out, and throw the prosecutors and judges in prison for life - or better yet, line them up on the street and take them out one by one with an AK bullet to the back of the head. If I could get away with it, I'd execute the entire prosecution team with my bare hands all and feel less remorse than when I swat a fly.

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Disgrace

I was vaguely aware that there was some talk about this type of law, but I had no idea that people were actually being prosecuted under it, much less serving time in jail because of it. 

This is an absolute outrage. CJ, feel free to move to Australia, where we have a female atheist prime minister (for a big longer, anyway), and our only fundamentalist, right-wing, conservative christian "family loving" senator has just ended his term in the federal senate. Of course, our federal opposition leader is also a fundamentalist, right-wing, conservative christian "family loving" member of parliament. Just hope that's as far as he goes. 

But even these two, who openly promote christian family values, wouldn't stoop as low as this. 

If a woman miscarries, who investigates the death of the foetus? Surely we have more important crimes to investigate. How old does the foetus need to be? As I understand it, women miscarry quite regularly, often without knowing it for sure. How could they prove causation? Would a woman who naturally aborts a 1 or 2 week old foetus be prosecuted because she had a glass of wine with her dinner? My wife was pregnant with our first child when it was identified that it had a massive problem with its skull. It was detected when it was about 20 weeks old. We were told that the baby would probably be able to be born alive, but would only live for minutes outside the womb. Getting over that shock, and deciding to terminate the pregnancy at that stage was tough enough, but being interrogated by a police prosecutor about the 'causes' of the death would have just been outrageous. 

What are the doctors in these states doing? Are they reporting 'suspicious deaths' to the police when women attend the emergency room with pregnancy-related problems? What about doing no harm to the mental health of the woman? And to think that one of these mothers may be heading to prison while her three other children are left at home - what an absolute joke. How many more lives are they going to wreck and problems are they going to cause? 

 

 


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Any prosecutor or judge

Any prosecutor or judge who'd throw a teenage girl in prison for life for miscarrying without any remorse isn't any different than Hitler or Stalin or the Taliban as far as I'm concerned - the only reason we don't see it the same was it that we've been conditioned into believing that if something is "legal", it's somehow less evil than if the same thing was illegal - but hey in Nazi Germany, Hitler "legally" executed 12 million people. I hope the same fate befalls these judges and prosecutors as befalls other evildoers - Hitler, Mussolini, Osama Bin Laden, and the rest of their ilk.

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 HumanVuvuzela wrote:My

 

HumanVuvuzela wrote:
My wife was pregnant with our first child when it was identified that it had a massive problem with its skull. It was detected when it was about 20 weeks old. We were told that the baby would probably be able to be born alive, but would only live for minutes outside the womb. Getting over that shock, and deciding to terminate the pregnancy at that stage was tough enough,

 

Wow dude! I am really sorry to hear that.

 

Half way in and you get that news? Wow, that must suck as in bowling ball through a garden hose territory.

 

Even so, that makes me wonder about a related matter. What should we do about the fundies who bring a kid into the world in such a condition?

 

Premise 1: Apart from “fetal protection” laws, I would tend to think that the boundary condition for a murder charge would be the existence of a birth certificate**. Clearly, if there is a birth certificate, anything that happens after that is to a real person.

 

Does that sound reasonable to anyone else?

 

So if a fundie knowingly brings a kid into the world who is going to die “in a short time”* should they be charged with murder for not getting an abortion?

 

*by “in a short time” I offer no exact definition. Could be a couple of months for what it is worth.

 

**Related question: I never had kids but just how long does it take to get a birth certificate anyway? If a kid is born premature, I could see some delay but not a whole lot as it was expected anyway. If a kid is born close to the due date, would not the paperwork already be in place and the doc just has to sign it?

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Premise 1: Apart from “fetal protection” laws, I would tend to think that the boundary condition for a murder charge would be the existence of a birth certificate**. Clearly, if there is a birth certificate, anything that happens after that is to a real person.

Does that sound reasonable to anyone else?

Eh, that sounds problematic in cases where the person dies before they have a birth certificate.

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:
So if a fundie knowingly brings a kid into the world who is going to die “in a short time”* should they be charged with murder for not getting an abortion? 

The fundie in question didn't really cause the death of the child; the child was already going to die. The fundie simply made it so that the child died after being born, so I don't think that should count as murder. I suppose we could interpret causality by saying that giving birth caused the death because if the child had died before it was born, then it wouldn't be the death of a "person." But, that just seems completely messed up to me. Of course, laws will never be complex and nuanced enough to be perfect, but I don't like a rule that is so removed from reality. It draws a sharp, imaginary line.......I would want to avoid it as much as possible. 

Also, in most cases, we will not be certain whether the child will live or not. What level of risk would doctors have to identify beforehand in order for murder charges to apply if the baby dies? If a law was established on this general idea, I imagine it could unintentionally endanger mothers in a way very similar to the law that is the topic of the article in the OP. Many mothers could be notified of an ostensibly minor complication and decide to risk birth, then be convicted of murder when the child dies, while very few of the types of cases that the law was originally intended for actually occur.

I don't know if I would ever forgive myself if I was involved in passing a law like that, just like I don't know how anyone that was involved in passing the law in the OP could continue to work in legislating without seriously considering resigning, much less the fuckers that are persecuting the individual mothers.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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**Related question: I never had kids but just how long does it take to get a birth certificate anyway? If a kid is born premature, I could see some delay but not a whole lot as it was expected anyway. If a kid is born close to the due date, would not the paperwork already be in place and the doc just has to sign it?

 

About a week or two  - from when you sign the birth certificate and get it in the mail and for the health department to return the official copy with the impression on it by mail.  If you have the baby in the hospital and sign it there, it takes a little less time and at least you don't have to find an envelope and a stamp at home.

Takes longer (at least it did for the last kid) for the SS number to get issued.

The requirement for babies to have a SS number happened between the second and third children in my case.  Then I had to scramble around for the older two to get all properly numbered before tax time that year.  Prior to that law, people got their social security number when they got their first job -- or never.

 

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Well, I tend to agree with you butterbattle. I am just trying to play with the fundie logic or lack thereof to see what must follow from their ideas.

 

Thinking further on this one, what about the idea of a kid dying, say in the first hour? Sure, the situation would be tragic but if no birth certificate is ever issued, then was the kid ever born?

 

Either it is a stillbirth or the birth certificate must be issued post mortem. Personally, I would rather the post mortem document be issued but I don't know if you can legally issue a birth certificate for a person who was dead before they even had a name. So you might have to go with stillbirth ex utero.

 

You see, one of the things that theists like to go on about is the idea of when life begins. But the whole idea makes very little sense. Really, you can't issue a birth certificate for someone who has not been born.

 

Then the courts normally work with 24 weeks. However, if memory serves, that was based on medical tech from the late 70's. Today, the medical limit is somewhat earlier.

 

The ultimate theist gambit is “at conception” and medically we have the moment of fertilization as the standard. But how do you tell when that actually happens? The problem here is that it is a bit of a black box type of puzzle. If a rape victim takes a morning after pill before that happens, it will still be effective. There is little that can be done to prevent fertilization, only implantation.

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Sure, the situation would be tragic but if no birth certificate is ever issued, then was the kid ever born?

---------  

You see, one of the things that theists like to go on about is the idea of when life begins. But the whole idea makes very little sense. Really, you can't issue a birth certificate for someone who has not been born.

It is whatever we define it to be I guess.

In this topic, I see these non-scientific definitions as not really descriptions of reality, but rather, subjective thresholds that are made to support some position on morality or law. Like, if a pro-lifer is arguing against abortion, they just assert that taking away 'life' is wrong and designate post fertilization as 'life,' while pre-fertilization, there was no 'life.' Similarly, a pro-choice person might designate post-birth as 'life.' They don't agree with the other's definition, so ultimately, all they're doing is begging the question and talking past each other.   

Certainly, the kid was biologically born even if he doesn't have a birth certificate. Whether or not he was legally alive is just whatever people legislate and judge.

It's just not simple enough to be played with like that....

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

HumanVuvuzela wrote:
My wife was pregnant with our first child when it was identified that it had a massive problem with its skull. It was detected when it was about 20 weeks old. We were told that the baby would probably be able to be born alive, but would only live for minutes outside the womb. Getting over that shock, and deciding to terminate the pregnancy at that stage was tough enough,

 

Wow dude! I am really sorry to hear that.

 

Half way in and you get that news? Wow, that must suck as in bowling ball through a garden hose territory.

 

 

Yes, it was pretty tough. Fortunately we now have two beautiful boys who are just fine. 

 

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

Even so, that makes me wonder about a related matter. What should we do about the fundies who bring a kid into the world in such a condition?

 

 

Absolutely nothing. The beliefs of the parents should have no impact on the law. It is an intensely personal choice for the parents to make, and if they want to deliver the baby and have a relationship with it for the short time it is alive, then that is their right. We chose to be more pragmatic, and didn't even want to know the sex of the baby, as I felt that if I knew the sex of the baby, I would subconsciously give it a name and a personality. I found it easier to overcome the shock of the situation by not attaching myself emotionally to the baby, and knowing as little about it as possible assisted me in this. 

 

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

Premise 1: Apart from “fetal protection” laws, I would tend to think that the boundary condition for a murder charge would be the existence of a birth certificate**. Clearly, if there is a birth certificate, anything that happens after that is to a real person.

 

Does that sound reasonable to anyone else?

 

 

Yes. 

 

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

So if a fundie knowingly brings a kid into the world who is going to die “in a short time”* should they be charged with murder for not getting an abortion?

 

*by “in a short time” I offer no exact definition. Could be a couple of months for what it is worth.

 

 

No. It is absolutely the right of the parents to choose. This is the law that I object to in the first place. 'Murder' requires a guilty act AND a guilty mind. I don't know any parents who conceive a baby with the intent of killing it whilst in the womb. The only time police should investigate the death of a baby in these circumstances is if doctors suspect deliberate 'unnatural' causes. For the record, I fully support legalised abortion, and the woman's right to choose. 

 

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

**Related question: I never had kids but just how long does it take to get a birth certificate anyway? If a kid is born premature, I could see some delay but not a whole lot as it was expected anyway. If a kid is born close to the due date, would not the paperwork already be in place and the doc just has to sign it?

 

 

Can't remember, but I think most hospitals give you a template certificate that the doctor signs once they deliver the baby. You lodge this with the government, and they send you an 'official' certificate a few weeks later. I don't think there's a great deal of complexity to the process, even for premature babies. It is just a case of following the law as to when a baby is legally 'alive'. 

 


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butterbattle wrote: In this

butterbattle wrote:

 

In this topic, I see these non-scientific definitions as not really descriptions of reality, but rather, subjective thresholds that are made to support some position on morality or law. Like, if a pro-lifer is arguing against abortion, they just assert that taking away 'life' is wrong and designate post fertilization as 'life,' while pre-fertilization, there was no 'life.' Similarly, a pro-choice person might designate post-birth as 'life.' They don't agree with the other's definition, so ultimately, all they're doing is begging the question and talking past each other.   

Certainly, the kid was biologically born even if he doesn't have a birth certificate. Whether or not he was legally alive is just whatever people legislate and judge.

It's just not simple enough to be played with like that....

 

 

Completely agree.