Wait - what?! It's awful but true - a case is moving through Mississippi’s court system that could set precedent for pregnant women to be jailed for their own miscarriages or stillbirths.
The case is Nina Bukhalter’s. She took meth while she was pregnant, and her baby girl died at two months old due to issues with the substance withdrawal. Now Nina is on trial for her daughter’s death. The courts are calling it manslaughter, and that is a big problem.
If the accidental death of her daughter gets Nina put in jail, from that time on, Mississippi's pregnant women could be criminally charged for any unintentional harm done to their fetuses.
This is possible because Mississippi’s definition of “human being” already includes "an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.” Pregnant women seeking abortions can’t be charged for terminating these “human beings” because there’s a clause exempting them - but the same can’t be said for women like Nina, whose fetuses or infants were killed by accident.
Experts say it’s really hard to pin down the cause of any given miscarriage or stillbirth, and most of the potential causes are out of our control anyway. So why the hell would Mississippi courts want to persecute women for them?
Nina’s lawyers argue that if she is charged, “smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, exercising” and having conditions like “obesity or hypertension” could make women legally accountable for their miscarriages, because doctors say all of those things could harm a pregnancy. A Supreme Court judge says we may as well add consuming “herbal tea, unpasteurized cheese, and lunch meats” to that list; that’s how ridiculous this logic is. Where do we draw the line?
Listen to Reproductive Ryan Gosling.
Mississippi is one of the most anti-abortion states in the country. A spokesperson for the nonprofit National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) says that charging Nina with manslaughter is just a backdoor way of establishing a legal personhood for fetuses that would outright outlaw abortions. Yikes.
Lawmakers and citizens there are working hard to close the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, and to grant full rights to fertilized eggs - making every abortion illegal, no matter what. This is just bad news on every level.
NAPW has documented over 400 cases (!) of pregnant women being jailed for harm done to their fetuses elsewhere in the U.S.A. These have happened in states with precedents similar to the one Nina's case could set, like Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. Let’s hope Mississippi does NOT join that list.
Thanks to Mother Jones. Photos via LawIsGreek.com and Reproductive Ryan Gosling.