An Alabama woman who was jailed for allegedly using drugs while pregnant wasn’t even pregnant—and was locked up for three days before even being allowed to take a pregnancy test, per a Monday report in AL.com.
Stacey Freeman, had been under investigation by the county Department of Human Resources for alleged substance use after one of her young children told a social worker their mom was pregnant. Without any medical confirmation, Etowah County Sheriff Investigator Brandi Fuller issued a warrant for Freeman’s arrest for chemical endangerment of a child, and Freeman was booked into the Etowah County Detention Center on Feb. 1.
Freeman’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg filed suit against the sheriff’s office this week over the injustice, seeking an unspecified amount in damages. “It’s just shameful you can go off somebody’s word that somebody’s pregnant,” Weinberg said. “It’s easy to verify through a pregnancy test.”
Not only was Freeman very much not pregnant, the lawsuit states, but she was on her period, and while jailed, she was denied access to feminine hygiene products. According to a previous report from AL.com, another woman, also jailed for alleged substance use while pregnant, was arrested just days after giving birth, and her boyfriend told the outlet she wasn’t even given “panties or pads” and “was stuffing paper towels or toilet paper in her pants to stop the bleeding.”
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When Freeman was released, her lawsuit states that instead of apologizing, Fuller warned her to not get pregnant, or she could face additional charges.
Etowah County is notorious for over-incarcerating pregnant women.
“Since we’ve started tracking pregnancy-related criminal cases in Etowah and defending clients there, we’ve noticed a common link. Investigator Brandi Fuller appears on almost all of the more than 150 recent warrants, helping to jail people over imagined ‘fetal rights,’” Dana Sussman, acting executive director of Pregnancy Justice (formerly National Advocates for Pregnant Women), told Jezebel in a statement on Monday. “And now, apparently, even the capacity for pregnancy is a crime in Etowah. Let’s be clear, even if she was pregnant, this should not have happened.”
In September, AL.com reported that five different pregnant or postpartum people jailed for alleged substance use had recently been released, including one woman who was arrested when police learned she’d recently smoked weed on the same day she learned she was pregnant. She was forced to either remain in jail or enter drug rehab, which wasn’t possible because rehab centers couldn’t take her. Lawyers for the woman said that state investigators pressured her to “admit” to a drug addiction she didn’t have so she could access rehab, pay the $10,000 cash bond, and leave jail. When the woman refused, she was jailed for months. Despite her high-risk pregnancy, she was forced to sleep on her cell floor because the lower-bunk had been double-booked. She regularly suffered from bleeding and fainting spells.
Other Etowah County women were jailed within days of giving birth, sometimes separated from their newborns for months at a time. Of the more than 1,700 pregnancy-related criminalization cases that Pregnancy Justice has tracked between 1973 and 2020, Alabama led the nation with over 600 cases. While just 2% of Alabama’s population lives in Etowah County, it represents over 20% of pregnancy-related prosecutions in Alabama. AL.com has reported as many as 12 pregnant or postpartum people suspected of substance use were held in that county’s detention center in August, alone.
The sheriff’s office has maintained that its policies around chemical endangerment of a child are meant to protect children. But they’re actually subjecting children including newborns to separation from a parent, all while incarcerated pregnant people are twice as likely to suffer miscarriages as the general population. A medical expert told AL.com that “separation of mothers from their infants has adverse impacts on infant and child development with ramifications that stretch into adulthood.”
In September, Etowah County district attorney Jody Willoughby said in a statement that he would “continue to prosecute those who harm innocent life to the fullest extent of the law”—by innocent life, he is, of course, referring to unborn fetuses. The reversal of Roe v. Wade and the growing, anti-abortion fetal personhood movement mean more and more pregnant people will be surveilled and criminalized by rogue law enforcement agencies that value the hypothetical life of a fetus over the safety and health of a pregnant person.