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Mississippi May Begin Prosecuting Women For Miscarriages

According to a report from Kate Shepherd at Mother Jones, Mississippi’s State Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could lead to women being prosecuted for manslaughter — if they experience unintentional pregnancy loss.

In 2009, Nina Buckhalter’s pregnancy ended in stillbirth after two months only to have a Mississippi grand jury indict her for manslaughter, citing her use of methamphetamine while pregnant as “culpable negligence.”

Reproductive health advocates across the country, as well as Buckhalter’s lawyers, contend that in addition to criminalizing countless women, the charges could deter women who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction during pregnancy from seeking prenatal care or treatment for substance abuse for fear of being prosecuted, thus creating barriers to safe abortion care.

Shepherd writes:

If prosecutors prevail in this case, the state would be setting a “dangerous precedent” that “unintentional pregnancy loss can be treated as a form of homicide,” says Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a nonprofit legal organization that has joined with Robert McDuff, a Mississippi civil rights lawyer, to defend Buckhalter. If Buckhalter’s case goes forward, NAPW fears it could spur a wave of similar prosecutions in Mississippi and other states.

Mississippi’s manslaughter laws were not intended to apply in cases of stillbirths and miscarriages. Four times between 1998 through 2002, Mississippi lawmakers rejected proposals that would have set specific penalties for damaging a fetus by using illegal drugs during pregnancy. But Mississippi prosecutors say that two other state laws allow them to charge Buckhalter. One defines of manslaughter as the “killing of a human being, by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another”; another includes “an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth” in the state’s definition of human beings.

Shepherd goes on to say that it is difficult to determine the cause of any stillbirth or miscarriage, and that many experts believe that there is no conclusive evidence that exposure to drugs in utero can result in an unintentional pregnancy loss. This leaves the notion of prosecuting women in this manner fraught with complications, along with opening the door for prosecutorial abuse.

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27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Bob Cull

    May 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Never let it be said that Mississippi doesn’t know how to go all medieval on your ass! I’m reminded of a line from the book Black Like Me when the bus crosses into Mississippi and the black guy says “now we’re in Mississippi, the most lied about state in the union. We all agree, we just disagree on who it is that’s doing the lying.” They were backward rednecks then and they are still backward rednecks today.

  2. Ammie Lake

    May 25, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Bob Cull, your right about about Mississippi. I haven’t read Black Like Me in years I’m gonna get it out reread it & then watch the movie again.

  3. Debbie Pearson

    May 25, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Reminds me of the old joke what has four eyes, but still can’t see? This is not about anti abortion, this is anti women. All of these ridiculous laws are simply being put in to hurt women. Makes me glad to be in the UK.

  4. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!

    May 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Are you insane?
    Do you REALLY think that it is just “fine” for women to do drugs during pregnancy with NO repercussions? Sir, YOU are the backwards one. If she wants to hurt herself no-one should stop her, but when she can’t refrain from “using” while pregnant, she SHOULD be punished. People have NO idea the PERMANENT and CATASTROPHIC damage these poor child born addicted must endure for the REST OF THEIR LIVES. EVEN with maternal usage of marijuana, studies show that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical in cannabis, reduce the development of surfactant that is CRITICAL for fetal lung maturity. It also affects infant birth weight, head circumference, and length….and even with this baby drug, psychosocial and behavioral problems are often long-term issues….SIDS risk increases, as well. Good gracious, man, is there no such thing as personal responsibility anymore?

    When was the last time you were in Mississippi, anyway?

  5. chrisbshifflett

    May 25, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I just do not see how this could hold up in any reputable court of law.

  6. Bob Cull

    May 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Chris, you see the problem with your reasoning, don’t you? The operative term is REPUTABLE COURT OF LAW, this is Mississippi we are talking about! Bubba don’t need no panty waist commie judge telling him what to do!

  7. Bob Cull

    May 25, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    It is you who is actually missing the point here, the point is that fear of prosecution should a miscarriage occur will tend to deter an addict from seeking treatment for the addiction when she finds herself pregnant. Also, as usual you zealots have to jump on the pot is just junior heroin bandwagon. This is a relatively innocuous drug, much more so than the legal drug whose users always want to remove from the stigma of being a drug by using the redundant phrase, “drugs and/or alcohol.” Alcohol is a drug and a very potent and addictive one at that. Pot on the other hand is not addictive and much less physically harmful. But anyway back to the original subject, no one suggested that it is okay for a pregnant woman to abuse drugs, neither is it okay to send her to prison because she was not able to seek treatment in time to save the fetus. Oh and by the way it was about six years ago that I was last in Mississippi, it was still the knuckle walker’s paradise that it was in the sixties, I see no reason to think anything has changed drastically in the last few years.

  8. Wayne McKnight

    May 25, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Part of your logic is flawed. 1) The article does not mention if she was even AWARE that she was pregnant. 2) Typical of drug users is that the same psychological reason which started the usage isn’t going to magically disappear once they become pregnant. As much as people do not want to admit it, drug users should not be treated criminally. They need help themselves, clinically. That mother was once a child herself so, lets stop caring about her since she has aged to an adult from birth.

  9. Bob Miller

    May 26, 2013 at 7:10 am

    What the real danger is the fact that this would open the door to prosecute people for ANY miscarriage. Perhaps a woman fell down some steps, she put her “babies” life in danger and “murdered” it.

  10. Richard

    May 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

    I really hate to agree with Missisippi on anything, and this shouldn’t pass just because it will set a dangerous precedent in an already psychotic state. But, in this PARTICULAR case…this woman can burn in Hell as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen plenty of “diseased” drug addicts quit cold turkey…it’s called “going to jail for a few months.” Speaking as someone who’s had plenty of run-ins with drugs himself (including meth), I have ZERO pity for anyone who costs a child its life because they won’t control themselves.

    Drug addicts have gotten so incredibly pandered through the 1980s and 90s, and we seem to have (in the words of Tony Stark) become part of a system that is comfortable with zero responsibility. DRUG ADDICTION IS NOT A DISEASE. Calling it a “disease” like diabetes, AIDS or multiple sclerosis is a joke and an insult, and it’s nothing but a justification that dope addicts use to destroy their lives and the lives of those around them. I see it all around me every day.

    Drug addiction is a HABIT…it’s a downregulation of dopamine receptors that will upregulate within six weeks if you stop poisoning them with dope. That’s ALL it is. Poisoning an innocent child because you refuse to suffer for a few weeks is a disgusting waste of human life, perpetrated by a WORSE waste of human life. If I had it my way, this bitch would have diluted Draino slowly injected into her veins through an IV until she melted from the inside out. But, for the good of those women who have tragic and LEGITIMATE miscarriages, she’s going to have to walk off and let Karma do the rest.

    PS: Don’t even try to hand me “It’s not like you’ve never made a mistake.” Yeah, I have…and I fixed it when I realized my mistakes were causing others to suffer. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a human being. That’s the LEAST you’re supposed to do.

  11. GooRu

    May 26, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Very clever sounding medical information. Just one problem… it is entirely fabricated. It took less the five minutes to debunk your diatribe. It’s the Internet, and we know how to use it.

    Personal Responsibility? Try some Personal Integrity next time. It never goes well making a point when you back with falsehoods.

  12. barbara velazquezbookofbeth

    May 26, 2013 at 8:10 am

    They will have to PROVE that she knew she was pregnant. Many women do not keep track of their menstrual cycle or have irregular ones. They do not need a doctor to tell them if they are pregnant. It is very easy to obtain a pregnancy test over the counter. If they can prove that she had a pregnancy test they will have to prove that it read positive, If they want her medical records they will have to show probable cause to get a search warrant. This stupid law is full of holes and ways to get around it.

  13. Glenn

    May 26, 2013 at 10:12 am

    You think threatening people with the additional charge of manslaughter is going to act as any kind of deterrent, or instill any sense of missing ‘personal responsibility,’ among people who are *already* breaking the law in the first place?

  14. Glenn

    May 26, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I take it also disagree with the entire DSM’s approach to the concept of ‘mental illness’ as well?

    Because those are the kind of diseases addiction is compared to. Not diabetes or multiple sclerosis, but schizophrenia or pyromania.

  15. Bob Cull

    May 26, 2013 at 11:45 am

    That is exactly right, Bob Miller! There are those who are convinced that no miscarriage “just happens”. My younger daughter has had two and in both instances I had people ask me, “what did she do?” She did nothing, she is very responsible and has taken very good care of herself during all four of her successful pregnancies. Some women have difficulty carrying any pregnancy to term, but you will never convince these Neanderthals that is the case, they will always believe that the miscarriage was the result of something “she did.”

  16. Don Bortle Jr.

    May 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    A state full of Vaginal Vampires and VagHags

    Vaginal Vampire – (VagVamp – slang, link, label)

    Any person, group of people, or organization that through their speech, writings, and/or actions are implicitly attempting to control, direct, and/or subjugate a woman’s inherent rights to the control of her body, her mind, her sexuality, and medical choices made between her and her doctor. Most of these Vaginal Vampire attacks are veiled in authoritarian religious dogma and conservative political rhetoric in an attempt to steal and control the power of the Womb and/ or Woman. This is accomplished through the demonizing of birth control, abortion, Planned Parenthood, the dumbing down and/or elimination of sexual education, the defining down of the violent crime of rape, the propagation of abstinence only, and the theft of a women’s rights of equality. The tactics employed to accomplish these goals run the gamut from intimidation, fear, propaganda, terror, violence, and murder/assassination.

    As with imaginary vampires, these Vaginal Vampires gain their power, wealth, notoriety, and prestige among their peers and the media by employing deceit, propaganda, and out right lies to suck the lifeblood from women who are making their own religious, moral, and heart wrenching decisions based on their individual medical and health circumstances.

    VagVamp’s consider no measure of action to be too vile or contemptible, not even terrorism or murder, to attain their most reprehensible ends. It also appears that those most concerned with a woman’s womb are way at the back of the pack in the caring and support after that child is born. This manifests itself in their unrelenting promotion of the cutting of early child health care, pre-natal care, head start, education, Planned Parenthood, and food programs, just to mention a few.

    VagHag

    A woman who has succumbed to the illicit power, money, and propaganda that emanates from a Vaginal Vampire and is willing to throw other women under the bus to gain the most meager of accolades from a VagVamp.

    A VagHag will think, say, and do anything that a Vaginal Vampire requests in the name of religious idolatry or conservative dogma.

    Sue had been standing in line for days. She was demeaning and pestering women who were entering the clinic for their health care needs. When asked, “Why are you acting like a VagHag?” her meek response was “My boss wants me to stop other women from using birth control or getting abortions and he even pays me for being here!”

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  18. eric

    May 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Then those women should be able to have an early abortion to prevent the fetus from developing into a human

  19. Omar Spence

    May 31, 2013 at 2:05 am

    It is plainly obvious you have never cracked open a modern psychiatry book. But it would probably be over your head based on your language and the content of your rant.

  20. Richard

    May 31, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Hi, sorry it took so long to get back. Yes, I know what modern psychiatry says on the matter…trust me, I take care care of my genuinely schizophrenic aunt, and I’m quite well versed on the matter. I’m also aware of the fact that drug addiction is no more than a temporary downregulation of dopamine or serotonin receptor cells as the result of artificially stimulated NT production or reuptake inhibition. And I know THAT because I’ve had issues with substances myself, and I’ve been around plenty of others who have had it even worse. As far as I’m concerned, psychiatry is now the branch of “science” concerned with finding new ways to sell pills for Big Pharma. They’ll classify ANYTHING as a “disease” if somebody can make a dollar off of it, or a lawyer can use it as a defense in court.

    That’s the state of modern “mental health.” Apart from the rare case of death from detox, the fact is that drug addicts remain drug addicts because a) They don’t want to experience a few weeks of Hell while their receptor cells upregulate, and b) because people make excuses for them by treating addiction like a “this is nobody’s fault” disease. I’ve seen plenty of people “cured” of drug addiction by going to jail, where they can’t get any for a while. If they decide to get back on the shit, it’s because of a failure to cope with reality. Not because of an imaginary “disease.” That’s the reality that gets people off the stuff for good…not making excuses so they don’t have to feel bad about getting on it again later.

  21. Barbara Michaud

    June 15, 2013 at 11:56 am

    If stupidity were against the law, we’d all be in jail. Forgive us all. Okay, you’d arrest a woman for high risk behavior during a pregnancy, then why are you not outraged about loopholes in taxes that take food out of their mouths once they’re born. Why are you not outraged about loopholes in gun laws and idiocy that fatally exposes them to gun violence. Why are you not outraged about subsidies to big oil, which serves to expose us all, pregnant or not to pollutants. If you want to arrest stupidity, look first at those who would arrest a woman for a stillbirth, yet elect officials who make life so miserable for those who are born.

  22. RichardR

    June 16, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Barbara: While I totally agree with you on the taxation and gun statements, be realistic. There’s a difference between doing something risky, or even high-risk, and something that’s all but certain to kill or severely injure another person. Texting and driving is a stupid, high-risk behavior…intentionally driving your car at full speed down a crowded sidewalk because it seemed REALLY fun while you were high is psychotic. Stupidity may result in harm under certain external circumstances…you’re talking about a deliberate action that is almost certain to result in harm under ALL circumstances. Feel sorry for this woman if you want to, but own up to it and say that’s just how you feel. Which is fine. But you’re not doing your feelings any favors by justifying them with faulty logic.

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