The Future is Now

Via Radley Balko, we learn that a woman in Mississippi has been convicted of manslaughter because she did drugs and gave birth to a stillborn baby.

Twelve years.

What if you’re in a car accident in Mississippi, your fault, and you give birth to a stillborn baby?

Are they going to try those women for manslaughter?

Flea has a great post today about why she won’t help denigrate radical feminists, even when she disagrees with them.

She says

I’m really sorry, but I just can’t help anybody tear down women who devoted their entire lives to making my life better. Because of radical feminism, women like me can own our own homes, acquire our own credit cards, choose the number of children we’d like to have, and walk around at night a little more safely.

I could not agree more.  We sometimes play this game where we run around being all like “We’re not like those other women.  Here, let us help you sling mud at them, just to prove how much we’re not like them.” and even as feminists, many of us have not lost that urge to curry favor by denigrating other women.

I try hard not to do that.  But for the reason Flea outlines here, but also just out of basic self-interest.

In feminist circles, I’m not a radical feminist.  In feminist circles, I’m a pretty wishy-washy feminist at best.

But here?

I know I look pretty damn close to the lunatic fringe of womanly behavior.

I don’t forget that.

Speaking out against radical feminists isn’t just about speaking out against the women feminists understand to be radical feminists–like Dworkin–but denouncing the women most folks understand to be radical feminists–like me.

But I will continue to advance the notion that a woman has a right to do with her own body what she wants, even if you don’t like it.

And I will continue to advance the notion that a woman doesn’t give up her right to do with her own body what she wants just because she’s pregnant.

And I sure as hell will continue to advance the notion that putting a woman in prison for twelve years because she couldn’t kick her addiction is pretty damn egregious.

And you can count on me to continue to point out that your “we have to protect the unborn babies” bullshit leads right to this: monitoring the behavior of pregnant women and punishing them when the pregnancies don’t result in live births.

And you need to think about that pretty long and hard, if that’s the road you’re fine traveling down–punishing women for not delivering live babies.

37 thoughts on “The Future is Now

  1. Drugs are illegal. She did something illegal which lead to the death of her baby. I can see how they would charge her with something. I agree its a very hard line to walk. She doesn’t give up the rights to her body to do what she wants, meaning if she couldn’t kick her addiction or didn’t get help to try, she could get an abortion. But since she chose to carry this baby then she has a certain responsibility to try and keep it as healthy as possible. My future sister-in-law stayed in a rehab house while she was pregnant because she just kicked her habit 6 months or so before she got pregnant and was worried the stress of being pregnant might cause her to relapse. Saying that she shouldn’t be punished because she couldn’t kick an addiction is almost like saying well that husband shouldn’t stand trial for murder because he beat his wife to death because he’s an alcoholic and its not his fault he couldn’t kick the habit or that drunk driver shouldn’t be charged with murder for killing that family because he couldn’t help being an alcoholic……Its not a punishment for a non-live birth – its a punishment for knowingly doing something that will cause harm to your baby. The minute you decide to carry to term, then that is when you do have to step up and take responsibility for making sure you do all that you can to try and make sure your child comes into this world as healthy as possible. There are accidents and unknowns in every pregnancy which could cause this not to happen – but taking drugs isn’t an accident. Just my two cents. I’m prepared now to be drug through the mud on how wrong I am :)

  2. Well, we can talk theoretically all we want about whether she could have gotten an abortion if she didn’t want to carry a baby to term, but, dude, for all practical purposes, you can’t get an abortion in Mississippi.

    There is no choice.

    And, if you want to look at it the other way, she did choose to end her pregnancy and now she’s sitting in jail because of it.

  3. Its not a punishment for a non-live birth – its a punishment for knowingly doing something that will cause harm to your baby. The minute you decide to carry to term, then that is when you do have to step up and take responsibility for making sure you do all that you can to try and make sure your child comes into this world as healthy as possible.

    I’m with Mgal here… although I see the “slippery slope” angle to your opinion B, there is a vast difference to a car accident and knowingly doing illegal drugs to harm a child. I”m as pro-choice as they come, but there’s just something really awful about people who have such little respect for themselves.

    There is a choice here – it’s called birth control and it’s handed out at every health dept in MS. And I would know, since I am a native of the state and have taken people to the health dept to get said contraceptives.

  4. I’m not buying it. I’m not saying she deserves citizen of the year or anything. Clearly, she’s got issues. I’m not even saying that she shouldn’t be in prison. She uses illegal drugs and they have a pretty undeniable piece of evidence of her drug use. But she shouldn’t be in prison for manslaughter.

    She has some serious health problems (drug addiction, the inability to consistently use birth control, etc). That doesn’t give us the right to punish her for not taking better care of herself.

    It just doesn’t. No matter how bad the outcome of her poor health choices are, her body is not the public’s.

  5. Pingback: Pregnancy, Drug Use, and Jail Time in Mississippi « Women’s Health News

  6. I see your point of view, and with all due respect, here’s how I see it because I grew up surrounded by people like this in my hometown.

    Ok, so her body isn’t a bargaining chip and people shouldn’t tell her what to do with it. But once she does have a healthy baby, she expects the gov’t to support it with various welfare programs. A person can’t have it both ways.

    Yes, there are people in destitute situations – because their parents grew up in the same set of circumstances – and the cycle repeats itself. But at some point enough is enough. People have to take a personal responsibility.

    If you want a state that’s really fucked up, look south to Louisiana.
    I have a relative whose other side of the family lives down there. Her cousin, at 30, just became a grandmother. The child that had the baby just turned 17 – the baby daddy? 35. But 17 is the age of consent in LA… but anyone with any math skills can tell you she was 16 at the time of conception. So, the state of LA does nothing to punish what is obviously a child predator. But of course, she could have gotten an abortion.

  7. The minute you decide to carry to term, then that is when you do have to step up and take responsibility for making sure you do all that you can to try and make sure your child comes into this world as healthy as possible.

    What about mothers who don’t eat healthy enough during the pregnancy? Mothers who have to work causing undue stress during the pregnancy? Mothers who play a sport? Mother’s who don’t get appropriate exercise?

    It strikes me as impossible to exclude these things if we make it the LEGAL responsibility of pregnant women to “do all that [she] can to try and make sure [her] child comes into this world as healthy as possible.” NO woman does all that she can during pregnancy (it’s arguable that no woman CAN do everything right). Any line that we draw between “perhaps not the best decision for the developing baby” and “criminal neglect of the developing baby” is subjective and somewhat arbitrary.

  8. People have to take a personal responsibility.

    By letting the government make their decisions for them (or punishing them for making decisions the government deems incorrect)?

  9. I think we should send men older than 40 to jail if they get someone pregnant, since that increases the risk that any child will be schizophrenic exponentially. Also men who have ingested alcohol before getting someone pregnant, since it’s a contributor to fetal alcohol syndrome and can cause other birth defects. Or crack, or heroin, or cocaine. How dare they all cause such potential harm to the children they engender?

    Oh, wait, they’re not women. So we’re not going to punish them for damaging potential children. Anyone who doesn’t see that this is about controlling women whose behavior we don’t like, not about punishing crimes, is being willfully blind, I think.

  10. Ok lets reword “making sure you do all that you can to try and make sure your child comes into this world as healthy as possible.” to “making sure that you don’t intentionally do anything detrimentally harmful to your child”.

    And what if that child had lived – heavily brain damaged. Is that fair to the child who is now a separate entity from the woman? Should she face assault charges then, or neglect? Or is it just tough luck for the baby?

  11. But heavily brain damaged kids are born all the time and we don’t look, legally, to assign blame to the mother. And sometimes the mothers do stuff that causes it. It just seems to me like, because this is such an egregious example, it’s easy to say “Well, she got what she deserved.”

    Smoking is terrible for developing babies. Should Mississippi arrest all women who don’t quit smoking while they’re pregnant?

  12. Ok lets reword “making sure you do all that you can to try and make sure your child comes into this world as healthy as possible.” to “making sure that you don’t intentionally do anything detrimentally harmful to your child”.

    I’m not so certain that makes it much better. Again you’re talking about something subjective. What is “intentionally do[ing] anything detrimentally harmful to your child?” One may argue that eating a poor diet can be incredibly detrimental to the development of a baby. On the flipside, there are numerous cases of alcoholic and drug addict mothers who give birth to perfectly healthy babies. While such behaviors certainly significantly increase the risk of problems with the child’s development, I’m sure there is somebody out there who would argue that such things aren’t necessarily detrimental either.

    So how to we quantify it for the purposes of creating a law? Should the law be if a behavior increases the chances of harming the child by X% it is illegal during pregnancy? If so, who decides precisely the percentage of risk associated with a certain behavior is (after all a woman who has one drink while pregnant isn’t being as risky as the woman who drinks every night). Further, what constitutes “harm.” Stunted growth or mental capability (to what degree and how does one check against what might have been?)? Physical deformity? Death?

  13. And, I ask again, why focus only on the potentially detrimental things that women do? Men’s health and behavior in the weeks and months before they impregnate a woman has a profound impact on the health of the fetus. Let’s not leave them out.

  14. “But once she does have a healthy baby, she expects the gov’t to support it with various welfare programs. A person can’t have it both ways.”

    No. A sane and humane society supports the life and health of the living people (especially children) within it. It’s not a reward for good behavior. It’s human rights.

    It really sounds like you think that giving a living baby (outside the mother’s womb) adequate health care to survive and thrive is somehow a bad thing, or an undeserved thing.

    once the baby is born, it is a human being with human rights. Are you suggesting giving a child of a drug addict less healthcare because of what its parents did?

    also, I’d like to know the health effects on children of car-related pollution, global warming, water pollution, other environmental damage, etc. When do we get to pillory those malefactors?

  15. “But once she does have a healthy baby, she expects the gov’t to support it with various welfare programs. A person can’t have it both ways.”

    No. A sane and humane society supports the life and health of the living people (especially children) within it. It’s not a reward for good behavior. It’s human rights.

    It really sounds like you think that giving a living baby (outside the mother’s womb) adequate health care to survive and thrive is somehow a bad thing, or an undeserved thing.

    no, and I guess I didn’t make an adequate case for my thought process there – been a wacky day.

    I just find that in the discussion here, it seems everyone is a proponent of giving people a free pass for bad behavior, which I find to be a slippery slope as well.

    I feel for the children of drug addicts and those who don’t have the lovely parents that I was afforded. I just think there should be at least something more than a silly slap on the wrist for someone who poisons a child while in the womb.

    All these poor children are becoming society’s responsibility – and the chickens will come home to roost — see the crack babies of the 1980’s as an example.

    I realize that not everyone was afforded the opportunity that most of us have enjoyed. I just feel that giving people a free pass for bad behavior is wrong. And I do agree that most people who are punished in our society for this are women. And that sucks. It takes two to create a child… where are the fathers in all this to say “put the crack pipe down, you’re pregnant!” — probably loading the crack pipe if the truth be known.

    I don’t have the answers, I never have claimed to. But at least this woman in prison has a shot at being educated on what the drugs she’s ingesting are doing to her body. At least the penal system will give her baby adequate healthcare once she’s in there. Heathcare that most of us will never get, free.

  16. “But once she does have a healthy baby, she expects the gov’t to support it with various welfare programs. A person can’t have it both ways.”

    No. A sane and humane society supports the life and health of the living people (especially children) within it. It’s not a reward for good behavior. It’s human rights.

    It really sounds like you think that giving a living baby (outside the mother’s womb) adequate health care to survive and thrive is somehow a bad thing, or an undeserved thing.

    no, and I guess I didn’t make an adequate case for my thought process there – been a wacky day.

    I just find that in the discussion here, it seems everyone is a proponent of giving people a free pass for bad behavior, which I find to be a slippery slope as well.

    I feel for the children of drug addicts and those who don’t have the lovely parents that I was afforded. I just think there should be at least something more than a silly slap on the wrist for someone who poisons a child while in the womb.

    All these poor children are becoming society’s responsibility – and the chickens will come home to roost — see the crack babies of the 1980’s as an example.

    I realize that not everyone was afforded the opportunity that most of us have enjoyed. I just feel that giving people a free pass for bad behavior is wrong. And I do agree that most people who are punished in our society for this are women. And that sucks. It takes two to create a child… where are the fathers in all this to say “put the crack pipe down, you’re pregnant!” — probably loading the crack pipe if the truth be known.

    I don’t have the answers, I never have claimed to. But at least this woman in prison has a shot at being educated on what the drugs she’s ingesting are doing to her body. At least the penal system will give her baby adequate healthcare once she’s in there. Heathcare that most of us will never get, free.

  17. Holy shit! Where is Rachel? I’m going to email her here in just a second, because I just came across something I did not know.

    Apparently, there’s no such thing as crack babies. Look here.

    The one light spot in the crack epidemic — if you can call it light — is that recent studies have shown there are really no crack babies. It had been said that the drug posed a physiological risk to children born to crack-addicted women, but now decades later, a report by Deborah A. Frank, a pediatrician at Boston University School of Medicine, states there is no “doomed generation or biologic underclass.”

    “There is no such thing as a crack baby,” Frank says.

    Recent studies have shown that children of mothers who used cocaine while they were pregnant do not have the massive abnormalities predicted in the 1980s. “There is no one syndrome,” associated with prenatal crack cocaine use, Frank says. “It’s not a good thing, but compared to alcohol, it is not the strong teratogen,” which is something that negatively alters prenatal development.

    So, this raises some huge questions for this case. Could the fetus have even died how the medical examiner said it died?

    We need Rachel!

  18. it seems everyone is a proponent of giving people a free pass for bad behavior

    Nobody here is a proponent of giving people a free pass for bad behavior from what I’ve read. She broke the law (by taking drugs) so toss her in jail (whether or not drug use SHOULD be illegal is a different question of course).

    The problem is when the “crime” becomes some nebulous, subjective thing such as “harming a unborn child.” The problem is that so many things can be covered under that. And it’s not even a slippery slope argument, because all the circumstances pointed out aren’t what MIGHT come to pass under such legislation, but rather are what are necessarily ALREADY covered under such legislation 9or should a say legislative interpretation), on the basis that there is no (and in fact can be no) objective standard to exclude such things.

  19. Interesting on the crack thing, B… very interesting. I look forward to Rachel’s 2 cents on that matter.

    nm, call me crazy, but I personally can’t reconcile how a mother who presumably wants to keep her baby ingests cocaine. Of course, I’ve never been a drug user.

    Yes, 12 years in jail is over the top… but some sort of education — something – needs to be done.

    Like I said, I don’t have the answers, just throwing out a different side here to the argument. Thanks for at least hearing my thoughts out. I learn so much from each and every one of you.

    :-)

  20. I don’t have any answers, either, but it seems like we’re putting two separate problems on trial here just because the bad result was the product of both. First of all, drug addiction is a serious and powerful problem. I’m sure we’d all like to think that we could just miraculously put aside the dope if we got pregnant, but let’s be realistic. “Just say no” doesn’t work because once that shit gets into your physiology and your psychology, you have one hell of a medical monkey on your back. We can talk about freedom of choice all we want, but if we’re not doing anything meaningful to combat drug addiction (threatening people with incarceration and putting them behind bars doesn’t seem to be working very well), then let’s not get too heavy-handed with the willpower and freedom of choice rhetoric.

    And therein is the second issue, which is how we insist on treating drug addiction as a crime (for some people) instead of as a medical problem.

  21. B, I’m working on finding/wading through some citations on this. It probably won’t be immediate (still catching up from Chicago trip), but I plan on putting something together on this.

  22. Couple of other things:
    Beth, you’re assuming that pregnancy is some magic thing that makes addiction easy or possible to overcome sans adequate assistance. Also, that serious drug addicts are at all times acting logically – this is unlikely given their, uh, addictions.

    Also, National Advocates for Pregnant Women works on exactly this kind of issue, if anyone is interested in checking them out.

  23. Rachel, I just had never heard that. I assumed all those crack babies were out there being crack young adults. What I wonder, considering the issues already out there with the medical examiner and considering these folks are saying that crack doesn’t affect fetuses the way we’ve been lead to believe that it does, is whether a woman can ingest enough crack to end her pregnancy in the first place.

    I mean, we have a medical examiner who pretty clearly seems to be railroading people. We have a woman who obviously has a pretty serious drug problem. She has a public defender. And here we are, a bunch of people with as much (if different) education than a lawyer and I know I thought doing crack while you were pregnant would cause your kid to be fucked up.

    So, I’m just saying, is it possible that they had a bunch of folks who just assumed crack could kill a fetus, and a medical examiner who just made a cause of death up, and it didn’t raise any red flags?

    I wonder.

  24. Nope, from what I understand with my currently limited knowledge, the crack baby thing was more racist than evidence-based. But I want to read more before I go into it further. There are a couple of questions at hand – does crack affect fetuses in the way we were led to believe? Does crack affect fetuses more/differently from other substances (including legal substances of alcohol and nicotine) or from other factors (inadequate nutrition, lack of access to healthcare) such that it should have ever been singled out for the kind of attention it received? If other factors play a similar/greater role in terms of fetal effects, is there (or why is there) a disparity in how we deal with the mothers?

  25. I’m thinking about that story in the local news today: a musician’s teenaged son ran over and killed his (the son’s) little sister in the driveway. And everyone is (rightly) saying how dreadful this is for the family and what a tragic accident it is. We don’t say “what the hell was the boy doing driving into the driveway without looking” or “how could the parents let the kids play in the driveway” and throw people in jail over it. Yet it’s bad, unrational behavior that led to the death. I suggest that we show the same compassion to addicts whose bad, unrational behavior harms their children.

  26. nm – does that go for drunk drivers as well because their bad, irrational behavior kills people?

  27. I’m pointing out that we use radically different standards for judging these things. And that the standards have very little to do with the moral culpability of the actors involved.* Is it less blameworthy to kill one’s sister because one wasn’t looking where one was going than because one was drunk? Or what if the child killed had been the neighbor child one’s sister was playing with?

    I don’t think I have all the answers to this problem, but I’m asking people to introduce a little complexity into their thinking and not give snap, one size fits all answers to the questions that are raised.

    *All too often, the standards have to do with the perceived class of the actors, with the poor generally judged to be more culpable than others.

  28. yes. And the complexity includes the things we assume as fixed and unchangeable in our scenarios.

    Like we can also think about whether car designers could design cars that made death less likely in car accidents? it’s easier to assign personal guilt and individual responsibility, but it could be that a structural response to the problem will lead to less death. would that ever be worth it?

  29. Structural responses might cut into short-term profits. Short-term profits, properly amassed, can pay for lobbyists, campaign contributions, and right-wing think tanks. Lobbyists and campaign contributions help make sure that elected officials avoid structural responses that cut into short term profits. Right-wing think tanks make sure that public discourse is flooded with rhetoric that places the onus for ameliorating structural problems on (certain) individuals.

  30. Pingback: When Before Precedes After… « DeMarCaTionVille

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