[Marxism] The New Jane Crow
proletariandan at gmail.com
Tue Feb 5 16:42:09 MST 2013
REGINA McKNIGHT was 21 years old when she was convicted and sentenced to 12
years in prison for homicide by child abuse--after she suffered a
stillbirth eight-and-a-half months into her pregnancy.
The jury deliberated only 15 minutes before finding McKnight guilty of
having committed "child abuse"--because of using cocaine during her
pregnancy. She went to jail, and one appeals court after another upheld the
conviction--until it was finally overturned *eight years later* on the
grounds that the scientific evidence used to claim McKnight's drug use was
responsible for the stillbirth was "outdated" at the time of her trial.
Laura Pemberton was arrested while she was in active labor--for attempting
to give birth at home, rather than undergo a C-section advised by her
doctor. A sheriff strapped her legs together and took her to the hospital,
where, at an emergency hearing, lawyers argued on behalf of her fetus.
Pemberton and her husband were denied counsel during this hearing, though
they were "allowed to express their views" as hospital staff prepared
Pemberton for surgery.
These stories aren't scenes out of some horror movie about a nightmarish
future society. They are real-life accounts from the war on women and their
rights that has been underway since the *Roe v. Wade* Supreme Court
decision that legalized abortion in 1973.
In a new report titled "Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant
Women in the United States,
National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) summarizes the experiences of
413 women who have been subjected to cruel punishments or unwanted medical
procedures while they were pregnant.
No state or federal law permits the arrest or detention of women
specifically due to pregnancy. Yet hundreds of pregnant
women--predominantly low-income women and women of color--have had their
rights taken away and their health put in jeopardy because police,
prosecutors, judges and even medical personnel have claimed the authority
to determine what will happen to their bodies. Lynn Paltrow, one of the
authors of the NAPW study, calls this phenomenon "a new Jane Crow"--in
reference to author Michelle Alexander's best-selling examination of the
mass incarceration system.
The crusade against women's reproductive rights has been led by politicians
and organizations that claim to cherish the "right to life" and champion
women's role as mothers. But the reality made painfully clear by the NAPW's
report is that the anti-choice right wants women to be treated as
second-class citizens, denied the right to health care, personal liberty
and the right to control their own bodies and lives.
Report authors Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin say their study understates
the number of incidents of incarceration or forced medical intervention
against pregnant women in the decades following *Roe*.
No one has attempted to compile these stories before, and records of the
cases are either scattered among different sources or nonexistent
altogether. Often, say Paltrow and Flavin, hospital staff impose unwanted
procedures without the involvement of state authorities. Plus, the
decisions of family and juvenile courts are kept confidential. So the
number of victims is likely to be many times greater than the 413 cases
verified by the NAPW in its rigorous study.
Nonetheless, the patterns of punishment described in the report paint a
frightening picture of the consequences of the right's campaign against
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WHAT "CRIMES" were committed by the pregnant women whose stories are told
in the NAPW report?
In the cases the report documents, women were most often targeted not for
attempting to end a pregnancy, but for attempting to carry one to term. The
main reason for arrest and detention was drug use during pregnancy, but in
other cases, women were punished because they suffered from sexually
transmitted diseases or mental illness while pregnant. Others wanted to
deliver at home, refused C-sections or failed to access prenatal care.
In several cases, women were charged with one or more felonies after they
suffered a miscarriage or attempted to end a pregnancy on their own. And in
one case, state prosecutors used the fact that a woman had refused an offer
of sterilization in support of its charges. This case, in particular,
strikes an old and deep wound, following decades of forced sterilizations
of Black, Latina, Native American and immigrant women.
In all, just over half of the women whose stories are collected in the
report are Black. Nearly three quarters of those facing legal charges were
represented by indigent defense.
African American women have suffered a long legacy of barbaric
discrimination--from the separation of families under slavery to the early
20th century eugenics movement that pushed through laws in 32 states
allowing the sterilization of women judged "unfit to breed."
Today, poor Black single mothers are scapegoated for all manner of social
problems. In particular, the war on drugs has served as a vehicle for the
attack, with drug convictions serving as the excuse for terminating
parental rights of incarcerated mothers.
Meanwhile, the media have whipped up a moral panic over drug use during
pregnancy. Thus, cocaine was the drug most often associated with the
criminal charges against pregnant women documented in the NAPW report. But
health professionals now recognize that cocaine use during pregnancy poses
no more significant risk to fetal health than poor nutrition, lack of
prenatal care or other factors commonly suffered by the poor.
In fact, in most of the cases documented in the report, authorities didn't
claim that fetuses had been harmed, only that there was a risk of harm. And
even when actual harm was alleged, in most cases, there was no scientific
evidence or expert testimony to substantiate the claim.
For example, Geralynn Susan Grubbs, a 23-year-old woman in Alaska, was
threatened with 30 years imprisonment and therefore pled guilty to a lesser
charge of criminally negligent homicide in connection with the death of her
two-week-old infant. Prosecutors claimed that drug use during pregnancy had
caused the infant's death--this allegation was allowed to stand even after
an autopsy revealed that there was no connection between the death of the
child and fetal drug exposure.
Such punishment flies in the face of the recommendations of the medical
community. Organizations like the American Medical Association have
concluded that criminalizing drug use by pregnant women only discourages
women from seeking prenatal care and assistance with their addiction.
Nonetheless, Paltrow and Flavin document how threats of arrest or loss of
custody lead some pregnant women with drug problems to avoid medical
attention, prenatal care and hospital deliveries altogether. In one
particularly absurd case, 34-year-old Alma Baker was prosecuted for dealing
drugs to a minor--after she gave birth to twins who tested positive for
THC, a chemical found in marijuana. Baker stated that if she realized the
risk of criminal charges, she would not have gone to her doctor at all.
Alma Baker is white, which makes her case highly unusual among those
documented in the NAPW report. Women of all races use drugs at rates
roughly equivalent to their numbers in the overall population--yet
overwhelmingly those questioned, screened and punished for drug use related
to pregnancy were African American.
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PALTROW AND Flavin focus on an underlying logic among the various cases of
detention and forced medical intervention: The idea that a fetus should be
considered person with full legal rights was consistently used to deny the
rights and personhood of pregnant women.
In a number of cases, the state declared protective custody over a fetus in
order to place pregnant women in medical or criminal detention. However,
these detentions *didn't*result in adequate medical treatment.
When 20-year-old Wisconsin resident Rachael Lowe became pregnant, she
sought medical assistance to break an addiction to Oxycontin. Hospital
staff reported her to law enforcement, and she was transported to a
hospital over an hour away from where she lived with her 2-year-old son.
There, she was detained in a psychiatric ward. The state appointed a legal
guardian for her fetus, but Lowe herself didn't receive legal counsel until
12 days after the beginning of her detention. She received no prenatal care
inside the psych ward, and she was held for several days *after* a doctor
testified at a court hearing that her drug use posed no health risk to her
fetus, and the court ordered her release.
Julie Starks, a 25-year-old pregnant woman in Oklahoma, was detained when a
juvenile court placed her fetus under protective custody. The state alleged
that the trailer she lived in may once have been used to produce
methamphetamine--and therefore declared that her fetus was a "deprived
child." While detained in a county jail, Starks suffered dehydration,
weight loss, infections and premature labor.
The NAPW's report covers only cases of detentions and medical interventions
of pregnant women up to 2005, in order to try to compile cases where legal
proceedings have been resolved. But researchers also uncovered more than
200 additional cases beginning over the last seven years. This significant
increase coincides with a barrage of new laws restricting access to
reproductive health services and criminalizing so-called feticide.
A total of 38 states plus the federal government have passed laws under
which eggs, embryos or fetal tissue are covered under existing murder laws.
And over the last two years, several states have attempted (and failed) to
pass "personhood" measures to give legal rights and status for eggs,
embryos and fetal tissue separate from the women carrying the pregnancy.
Some lawmakers and prosecutors have even invoked the *Roe v. Wade* decision
itself as justification for such actions. The decision bans legal
restrictions on abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy,
until a fetus is considered viable to survive outside the womb. Some
anti-choice politicians and prosecutors have argued that the decision
equates fetal viability with fetal personhood. But the Supreme Court's
conclusions in the*Roe* decision explicitly rejected the claim that a fetus
at any point deserves rights or status separate from a pregnant woman.
The experiences of women like Ragina McKnight and Geralynn Susan Grubbs and
Rachael Lowe and literally hundreds of others make it clear that these
anti-women laws have nothing to do promoting health or civil rights--and
everything to do with the most destructive and dehumanizing sexism and
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