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Stillborn Justice

Around 38 US states have adopted “fetal homicide” laws that were intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from attacks from third parties (such as abusive partners). But these laws are increasingly being used to prosecute the women themselves. For example:

  • A pregnant woman in Indiana became despondent after her boyfriend abandoned her and attempted to commit suicide by taking rat poison. She survived but her baby (at 34 weeks) was born a week later and died after four days. The mother is now charged with fetal murder and has been held for the last three months without bail.
  • In Mississippi, a girl who became pregnant at the age of 15 had a stillbirth at 36 weeks. When it was discovered that she was also a cocaine addict, she was charged with “depraved-heart murder” of her child, and if convicted faces mandatory life imprisonment.
  • A pregnant woman in Alabama was told her child likely had Down’s syndrome, and doctors suggested she terminate the pregnancy, but she declined because she is against abortion. The baby died 19 minutes after birth. But six months later she was charged with “chemical endangerment” and accused of taking drugs during the pregnancy (which she has denied).

    This case is particularly bizarre since it would not have been illegal for her to have an abortion, but it is illegal for her to do something that accidentally ends the pregnancy.

Are these cases flukes? South Carolina was one of the first states to adopt a fetal homicide law, but only one case has been brought against a man who assaulted a pregnant woman under the law, and his case was eventually overturned. But around 300 woman have been arrested for actions during their own pregnancy.

Even more ironic, these laws make it a crime to be a drug addict who becomes pregnant and loses a fetus, but not illegal for the same women to have an abortion. So while these laws claim to protect unborn children, they actually encourage abortions.

Not to mention that they are criminalizing pregnant women who lose their babies.