Alabama has launched a crusade to prosecute mothers on behalf of their drug-addicted newborns. At first glance, it seems like an honorable endeavor, protecting children from unfit parents, but it's much more insidious than that. The law that enables these arrests and charges assumes that a fetus is a person, entitled to rights and legal protection. That's a problem. Because a fetus is no more a person than a woman is a womb on legs. It doesn't matter how selfish, trashy or unhealthy it is for a pregnant lady to do meth. Because, let's face it, it's selfish, trashy, and unhealthy for anyone to do meth. Applying a separate set of laws for pregnant women—as though they are an entirely different class of people—is a dangerous game that puts our reproductive rights as a whole at stake.
The New York Times profiled a handful of the over 60 prosecutions of new mothers in Alabama since 2006, when a law about "chemical-endangerment of a child" was passed, prohibiting people from:
Exposing a child to an environment in which he or she . . . knowingly, recklessly or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance or drug paraphernalia.
The law was meant to protect kids from meth labs, but has in a somewhat scary turn, the word "child" has been interpreted to include "fetus" and "environment" to include "womb." Last year, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld this interpretation of the chemical-endangerment law, "ruling that the dictionary definition of 'child' includes 'unborn child.'" The state's Supreme Court will be ruling on that interpretation in the coming months.
Honestly, some of the women profiled in the piece sound pretty horrid. One lady, 32-year-old Amanda Kimbrough—who has a criminal record for selling drugs—did meth (she claims only once, whatever) which caused her son, whom it'd already been determined would have Down Syndrome during one prenatal visit, to be born 15 weeks premature. He lived for 19 minutes. Kimbrough was arrested at the hospital, her bail was set for $250,000 and she eventually pleaded guilty and received the minimum sentence of 10 years. She has Planned Parenthood, the A.C.L.U. and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and the National Organization for Women all in her corner, maintaining that her conviction sets a dangerous precedent.
What causes someone to continue to do drugs when there's such a high cost? Addiction. And it''s a disease that should be handled as a health issue, not a criminal one.
Pro-lifers, however, are eating this up, hoping it will influence policy in other states when it comes to the matter of the "personhood" of a fetus. What's so laughable about anti-abortion groups like Personhood USA, Operation Rescue, and Liberty Counsel—other than the fact that they're all headed by the kind of people that will never need abortions (read: men)—is that they're fighting for the human rights of something that is not a person. A fetus is cells and tissue and goo, but it is not a person. And these groups are more concerned with protecting a not-person than they are an actual person: the mother.
Some women, myself included, can see a sonogram image of those little neck-less lizard creatures and instantly feel a connection. Some don't. Some pregnant women take prenatal yoga and some women take meth. But "her body, her choice" doesn't apply to a certain set of women for a certain number of weeks into their pregnancies. This is an all-or-nothing, totally important tenet of feminism that—in order to work—has to extend to every single woman, always, no matter how low she may sink.
The Criminalization of Bad Mothers [NY Times]
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