(Cross-posted at Gloria Brame's.)
Religious conservatives seek policies to make the maximum number of women into mothers dependent on a man for their and their child's life.
They're quite ruthless in pursuit of this goal. On one hand, they work to make it harder for women to gain access to sexual health information and contraception, because they know that will lead to the maximum number of pregnant women. They make it difficult to get an abortion. They cut funding for any sort of assistance that would enable the woman to live independently from a man. The push marriage policies that punish women who do not get married. They don't care if the women die in childbirth or by abusive men or the children die after they're born, so long as there are other women who can become mothers to take their place. It's God's will, after all.
As part of this effort to control women and make them nothing more than child-bearing servants, a particularly nasty policy has come along: Punishing women who are drug addicts and alcoholics if they fail to get sober when they are pregnant.
Bean from Lawyers, Guns & Money:
Take, by way of example, the case of Theresa Hernandez. Ms. Hernandez, who lives in Oklahoma, is being tried for first degree murder for suffering a stillbirth at 32 weeks of pregnancy. The prosecution is based on a "highly questionable" (according to NAPW) claim that Ms. Hernandez's use of illicit drugs during her pregnancy caused the pregnancy loss.
My "common sense" tells me that prosecutions like these -- which have taken place in the majority of states and have affected the lives of almost 1000 women -- are bad for public health. As Dr. Dana Stone, the Oklahoma head of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains it in a National Advocates for Pregnant Women press release out today:
"Stillbirths and miscarriages are unfortunately a risk of pregnancy for all women. Prosecuting women for pregnancy loss based on what they allegedly did or didn't do will only deter women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment, and that's ultimately bad for babies."
over 150 other medical professionals back her up and oppose criminal justice responses to drug addiction during pregnancy.
In addition to the doctors' concern that prosecutions drive the women most in need of prenatal care away from it, is the simple fact that any prosecutor interested in protecting fetal health would try to keep a woman as far away as possible from a jail cell. Not only are drugs as widely available in prisons as outside (if not more widely so), but jails are also notorious for providing appallingly bad prenatal and delivery care, including the shackling of women during labor and delivery.
The point of policies like Oklahoma's is to instill the feeling of being controlled into women. Once they become fertile, and especially once they become pregnant, they are to learn that they no longer are autonomous persons - they are instruments to be used for a greater good.
More from National Advocates for Pregnant Women:
By combining drug war propaganda with claims of fetal rights, new and significant violations of civil liberties and human rights are occurring. In the last twenty years, hundreds of pregnant women and new mothers have been arrested, based on the argument that a pregnant woman’s drug use is a form of abuse or neglect. In 1997, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a pregnant woman who used cocaine and who gave birth to a healthy baby could be convicted of child abuse. More recently, a pregnant woman who used cocaine and suffered a stillbirth that was caused by an infection-- has been convicted of homicide by child abuse in South Carolina. More than eighteen states now address the issue of pregnant women’s drug use in their civil child neglect laws, and a growing number of these states make it possible to remove a child based on nothing more than a single positive drug test. Like other applications of the war on drugs, the punishment of pregnant women targets vulnerable, low-income women of color—those with the least access to health care or legal defense.
These cases represent a significant expansion of the war on drugs. Pregnant women who are addicts can go to jail, despite Supreme Court rulings that treat addiction as a disease --and punishment for it as a violation of the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Similarly, despite the fact that people who are treated for drug related health problems are supposed to have extra protections under the federal drug treatment confidentiality statute, S.C., by reinterpreting drug use as child abuse, creates a devastating exception to the statute’s privacy protections.
Good people who are appalled by this and the theoconservatives who push it have no common ground. When we talk about what's best for mothers and children in a utilitarian, empirical way, as bean does, it falls on deaf ears. When we talk about civil liberties and human rights, it falls on deaf ears. To our opponents, our enemies, all of those things are secondary to what is good and right, and what is good and right is dictated by their bibles, not by science or law. There is nothing to discuss with these people. All we can do is defeat them politically.