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Mishap or Murder?

There’s a trend across the US that has reached Mississippi. On June 8th, Rennie Gibbs’ murder trial was put off and will resume in August. She is charged with killing her unborn child. Not willfully, but murder nonetheless.

According to prosecutors, Ms. Gibbs was taking cocaine during her pregnancy. Even though the fetus’s premature delivery and death were not found to be caused directly by drug use. That bears repeating – the baby did not die from the cocaine. However, Ms. Gibbs use of cocaine during the pregnancy showed a “heartless disregard” for the consequences. And since the fetus died, murder charges are warranted.

If this seems unusual, it’s not. Several mothers are already serving time under similar situations. One, in Indianapolis, is facing a murder charge because she attempted suicide. She was 33 months pregnant when she took rat poison. She survived, the baby didn’t.

A very sobering document, describing the Louisiana procedures when medical staff suspect drug use in a pregnant woman can be found here. The disturbing trend of charging mothers in this way has a rationale, as long as addiction is seen as merely a choice instead of a disease. We wouldn’t arrest and jail mothers if their babies were lost as a consequence of diabetes. Or would we?

Couple a behavior that society disagrees with to the unintended death of a baby and the bottom line seems to be that someone should pay. A murder charge seems excessive though. What purpose does it serve to keep a woman in jail for ten to twenty years because of an unforeseen mishap?

Alabama has had a statute since 2006 and some 40 women have faced charges under their “chemical endangerment” law. While the cases mount across the US, women’s rights groups are rallying to combat what they feel is an outrageous misapplication of the power of the courts.


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