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Friday, February 6, 2015

Pregnant Or Else

So let's say you think you're pregnant (or you know it for a fact, but of course you're not "really" pregnant until your doctor "says" you're pregnant, so just humor me for a second here) and you go see your doctor. He/she congratulates you all over the place and hands you a packet of literature, probably paid for by a diaper manufacturer.  Among the brochures about morning sickness and nutrition and whether or not you should drink coffee, I think there should be a flyer that says this in bold caps:  "ATTENTION LADIES: NOW THAT YOU ARE PREGNANT, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO TIMELY PRODUCE A PERFECT LITTLE HUMAN BEING.  DO NOT HAVE A MISCARRIAGE.  DO NOT HAVE AN ECTOPIC PREGNANCY.  FURTHER, DO NOT TAKE ANY DRUGS WHATSOEVER AT ALL.  DO NOT DRINK.  DO NOT SMOKE.  DO NOT BREATHE POLLUTED AIR.  DO NOT DRIVE TOO FAST OR GO SKIING.  DO NOT GO SKYDIVING OR ROCKY MOUNTAIN CLIMBING OR 2.7 SECONDS ON A BULL NAMED FU MANCHU.  UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS STATE, YOU CAN AND WILL BE PROSECUTED AND POSSIBLY JAILED FOR LIFE IF YOU FAIL TO PRODUCE A PERFECT LITTLE HUMAN BEING NINE MONTHS FROM TODAY, AND/OR IF THERE'S ANYTHING AT ALL WRONG WITH THE LITTLE HUMAN BEING YOU DO PRODUCE, INCLUDING A BAD ATTITUDE.  IF YOU CANNOT AGREE TO ALL OF THE FOREGOING YOU ARE ADVISED TO HAVE AN ABORTION IMMEDIATELY, EXCEPT YOU CAN'T IN THIS STATE BECAUSE WE SHUT ALL THE CLINICS DOWN.  HAVE A NICE DAY."

For the life of me, I don't get where we got this idea that pregnancy terminates a woman's civil rights.  But apparently some people think it does, including the twelve people on the jury.  I'm talking, of course, about the case of Ms. Purvi Patel, who was just simultaneously convicted of fetal homicide (killing a child in the womb) and neglect of a dependent (neglecting an alive child) in Indiana.  There's some pretty good coverage here, and also here. The first of the many, many things wrong with this case is the fact that you cannot logically both kill a child in utero and then neglect it once it's born alive.  One or the other would work, but both are impossible.  So Ms. Patel was convicted of crimes that can't exist. You'd think the prosecutors would be able to pick one, but apparently they were too busy designing the flyer to read the case facts.

I mean I could go on and on about how the medical examiner couldn't prove that the child was born alive and that Ms. Patel had no drugs in her system and how it's pretty obvious that she had a miscarriage at 28 weeks, which does happen, but as usual, That's Not The Point.  The point is that women, mainly women with brown skin with no money, are being held legally and now criminally responsible for the results of their pregnancies when there's no precedent whatever in law or in fact that we can even constitutionally do that.  And when I say women with brown skin and no money, I mean I haven't once come across a news story about a well-to-do pregnant white woman with an OxyContin or cocaine habit getting arrested or losing custody of her newborn.  Maybe it's happened, but I sure don't know about it.  And, um, I know about this stuff.  Mainly because people tweet it at me on Twitter and I Can't. Not. Read It.  It would be like driving past a car wreck without looking.  Yes, I'm sure some people do that.  I am not one of them.

So check out this story here.  A well-to-do pregnant white woman attempted suicide at seven months. She had been complaining of depression, had been vomiting several times a day, and just generally not having a good time.  In fact she had a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, an occasional complication of pregnancy, but her doctors never got around to figuring that out. They just told her to buck up and get over it.  Instead she took a huge overdose of pills.  She and her baby both survived, but the baby was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (basically getting addicted to Mom's antidepressants in utero) and needed medical treatment. She was treated in a hospital, as the sick woman she obviously was, 

Contrast that with the story of Bei Bei Shuai, an unrich unwhite unwed Chinese immigrant who attempted suicide at eight months.  She and her baby both survived, but the baby died four days later of undetermined causes.  Bei Bei spent over a year in jail and was prosecuted for fetal homicide.  For a suicide attempt. People, if you are attempting suicide while pregnant, something is seriously wrong with you.  Did this woman ever get any treatment?  Yes.  Four days as an inpatient in the psych ward of the hospital.  From which she was arrested and taken to jail.  

 For more fun and excitement, check out the state of Tennessee, which has arrested about 130 mostly poor, mostly minority pregnant women with drug addictions on the grounds that they have "harmed" their infants (neonatal abstinence syndrome again--which, by the way, is very treatable).  Besides going to jail, most of these women have lost custody of their infants to CPS.  Now, one could point out that the Supreme Court decided (in 1962, brothers and sisters) that being addicted to drugs is not in itself a crime.  And yet, that's what these women are being arrested for.  

Look.  I want every pregnant woman everywhere to have a healthy pregnancy and a cute, wiggly healthy infant at the end of it.  I want kids not to be born addicted to drugs or harmed by substances the woman took while pregnant. I want pregnant women not to kill themselves, their fetuses or anybody else for that matter. I'm sure we all want those things, but these policies that lock up pregnant women are not the way to accomplish it.  For one thing, the policies themselves are illegal under various permutations of the right to privacy (see, e.g., 410 U.S. 113, 381 U.S. 479, 370 U.S. 660.)  For another thing, you can't be dividing people up and saying that certain behaviors are legal (or at least not jailworthy) for one class of people but illegal for another class of people. That pesky Fourteenth Amendment.  And you can't be calling CPS because a mother tests positive for a controlled substance at the time she delivers the baby.  HIPPA.  In short, you just can't do this shit.  And sooner or later a court is going to say so, therefore giving rise to a whole bunch of very expensive judgments against, say, the state of Tennessee, which last time I checked didn't have a whole lot of money to be issuing I'm-sorry payments to pregnant women. 

But besides all that, these prosecutions do one thing without exception: They keep women from getting prenatal care.  If you think your doctor is going to rat you out to law enforcement or CPS, are you going to tell him or her that you have a drug problem?  That you might be suicidal?  No.  You just won't go to the doctor.  Or if you do, you'll lie a lot.  This article talks about women having babies at home unassisted and leaving the state to give birth.  I can't imagine that's anything we want to encourage.  

Incidentally, most inpatient drug treatment programs won't take pregnant women because of the liability (stopping or tapering off drugs can be very dangerous for pregnant women; withdrawal sickness can sometimes cause miscarriage, among other things.  See above re: the consequences of miscarrying.)  The state of Tennessee has 159 inpatient drug treatment centers.  All of 15 of them accept pregnant women.  In light of the obvious "babies born addicted epidemic" that lawmakers are so certain is happening, I'm sure that's plenty.

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