Cruel and inhuman

Cruel and inhuman

by digby

This is so awful it's hard for me to even read about it:

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison.

Seven years and much legal wrangling later, Gibbs could finally go on trial this spring — part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases across the country in recent years that pit the rights of the mother against what lawmakers, health care workers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and others view as the rights of the unborn child.

This lifeless fetus was delivered with its umbilical cord around its neck. Unless the theory is that the cocaine fueled fetus committed suicide it's hard to see how this could possibly even be a legal case. But it is. And it's a perfect illustration of yet another anti-abortion legal tentacle designed to make a woman's civic status and bodily autonomy secondary to a gestating fetus. They could, after all, just charge her with smoking crack cocaine, a "crime" which she commits against herself. But in these people's minds, when a woman is pregnant, she ceases to exist except as a body which houses and feeds the growing fetus.

Slippery slope arguments are fairly cheap most of the time, but in these legal situations they must be addressed because the law depends on the application of logic and principle. In a country in which abortion is ostensibly legal these cases around the country in which women are being charged with murder for allegedly killing their fetuses with acts of harming (what they thought of) as themselves are bizarre and very troubling. If it continues in this direction, we will see a legal basis for declaring pregnant women guilty of negligence for failing to properly follow doctors orders or being overweight or physical risk or any number of other claims which could be made against them for failing to be proper guardians of their potential offspring while it is still inside their bodies. The lines they are trying to draw on this are far too indistinct for something as blunt as the legal system to competently judge.

These cases should point out the complexity of this situation. But for many people it remains simple: a fertile woman doesn't own her own body. A fetus could be inside it and, being innocent of any wrongdoing, it would always have a superior claim. That's a problem.