Penalizing Pregnancy: Lynn Paltrow on the Fight for Reproductive Justice

January 05, 2015

The effort to overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion has spiraled into challenging not only women’s right to abortion, but a women’s right to carry her baby to term. Across the country, women who seek medical help for pregnancy complications are being met with incarceration and outrageous sentences, all without proper representation. According to this week’s guest, if a woman would like to give birth in America, she needs to be prepared to surrender her basic liberties.

Here to discuss the fight for women’s pregnancy rights is Lynn M. Paltrow, founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), a nonprofit civil rights group that advocates for pregnant and parenting women. Paltrow has also served as a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, as Director of Special Litigation at the Center of Reproductive Law and Policy and as Vice President for Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of New York City. Paltrow has not only done extensive work in challenging the restrictions placed on the right to choose abortion, but also fights the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women seeking to continue their pregnancies to term.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, January 5th, 2015. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Lynn Paltrow, a lawyer and founder of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a nonprofit civil rights group that advocates for pregnant and parenting women. She’s here to talk to me today about some disturbing legal trends across the country that are making women a separate and unequal class of people under the law if they happen to have a fertilized egg inside of them. Lynn, welcome to the program. 

Thank you for having me. 

Every time it seems you open the newspaper, there are more cases of pregnant women getting locked up for using drugs, being jailed for giving birth to babies with drugs in their systems. They sentenced more harshly for crimes they committed while pregnant than even being criminally penalized for premature births and stillbirths. This is part of a larger legal trend. 

Well, we’re certainly seeing the impact of, I think, 40 years of incredible efforts by those who want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and abortion re criminalized. We’re starting to see what the impact of that effort is. And it’s an impact that doesn’t only affect women who want to end their pregnancies. It’s clearly affecting more and more women who want to go to term and are finding, for example, in one of the latest cases in Wisconsin that when they go for help, when they seek medical help, the result isn’t help. It’s incarceration. 

What happened in Wisconsin? 

In Wisconsin, a woman who had a serious health problem, who did not have health insurance, couldn’t afford health care in a state that, by the way, Wisconsin refused to do Medicaid expansion, was very sick and she was self medicating for a short period of time with drugs that she was able to get. And when she found out she was pregnant or thought she might be pregnant, she took herself immediately to a hospital and asked for help, said, here’s what’s going on. Please help me. And instead of responding to her voluntary effort to get help, they began focusing only on her, on the fact that she had self medicated with some drugs for a short period of time. 

So she had hypothyroidism and she was using some kind of non prescribed stimulant hypothyroidism. 

Right. Make you lethargic and depressed. And she was using some amount of methamphetamine and some amount of marijuana for a short period of time, which as a form of self medication. No, you’re not crazy drugs to use. 

And nobody accuses her of being an addict. Right? I mean, not even the people who are trying to control her now through the medical system, she’s not diagnosed as being chemically dependent. Right. 

She has not been diagnosed. And part of what’s so telling about the law and what happens around the country is there was no evaluation. If you think about it, lots of people drink alcohol that they’re not alcoholic. Right. It’s the same is true. Read Dr. Carl book high price. Many, many people use a variety of drugs that are criminalized and are not dependent or addicted to them. In this case, without even an evaluation by anybody qualified to determine if her past self medication, her use of drugs or self medication, she was dependent, much less addicted on them. They turned her medical records over to state authorities and they made a determination. People made it to the point that a lawyer for her 14 week fetus held a court hearing to determine what should be done. And at that hearing was nobody who had evaluated her for having any kind of drug problem. And they ordered her in to a residential drug treatment program far away from her home. Minutes that we’ve had, as far as we know, has provided no prenatal care. 

And she didn’t have her own lawyer. That fetus had a lawyer. 

The fetus had not only did she not have a lawyer, she didn’t even have proper notice that there was a hearing going on at which for fetus would be represented by somebody appointed who none of the people appointed under this Wisconsin law are involved, have any medical qualifications, have any drug treatment qualifications. And yet this law that was put into effect in 1999 that added the term unborn child to the Wisconsin Children’s Code more than 300 times, becomes a basis for taking women who seek medical help and detaining them either in programs that no qualified medical person has determined are even helpful to them or putting them in jail, which is actually where Miss Tammy later ended up. 

Is she getting treatment for her actual hypothyroidism, which is terrible for her and the baby? 

She eventually got treatment, although when she refused to take an blood test that was required for detaining her in the drug treatment program, there was another court hearing again where a lawyer was appointed for the fetus and not for her, where it was determined she was in contempt of court for not collaborating and cooperating with her attempt to essentially lock her up in a drug treatment program. So they held her in contempt and put her in jail where they deprived care for at least two days of her thyroid medication. But when they finally got a hold of it, because people let’s just talk realistically about what goes on. People think that if you delegate to the government or state authorities treatment for people, you feel they need it. There’s an assumption that they’re going to get appropriate treatment. But what you’re delegating to our systems that are are used to in the child welfare system, looking for parents who abuse their children and punishing them or you’re putting people in. Jail. Jails are not set up to provide health care. They’re set up to control and punish. And that’s what they did. To Tammy later. They didn’t give her her medication for several days. They then insisted that she take a pregnancy test, even though she was locked up because she was pregnant. And when she refused, they put her in solitary confinement in a filthy, horrifying cell. Somebody threatened to taser her. And then when she was finally let out of solitary confinement, she was held for 17 days during which they prevented her from going to the prenatal care appointments she had had set up. And she apparently saw a jailhouse doctor who just said, you know, if you’re going to lose the pregnancy, you’re going to lose the pregnancy. 

And it’s not a concern when hypothyroidism goes untreated during pregnancy. 

There’s absolutely that. That’s what people, the media and everything else has done is made people think that the greatest threat to children’s health is their own mothers and particularly drug use, drug use. All of the research says that it’s not good to use any of the criminalized drugs for anybody and certainly not for a pregnant woman, but that the kind of risks that are possible are equivalent to or less than cigaret smoking. The hypothyroidism and the version that she had was a serious risk to her and to her future child, the baby. That she very much wanted to have. And instead of focusing on that and the other support she really needed, they put into place a mechanism of control and punishment that had nothing to do with the well-being of either the pregnant woman or her future child. 

What happened to Tamara? She’s still in treatment. 

Well, she’s she’s not in jail and she’s still required to have regular repeated drug tests, as if that’s her problem. And it’s not because her drug use was not about the tendency or addiction. Her bigger problems like or I should say, like many of the women I’ve had the privilege of helping to represent, a far bigger problem is not having the community support that she needs in terms of housing and safety and access to medical care that isn’t policing in disguise. 

And she’s now suing the government over how she was treated. Is that correct? 

She had filed we have filed on her behalf the Car Center for Reproductive Justice at NYU Law School and National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Phrae Abound with the law firm of Perkins. Kohl and Wisconsin have filed a federal civil rights action to try and stop the use of this law as a mechanism for policing. That rolling and punishing women who become pregnant and use some undefined amount or have in the past do some undefined amount of alcohol or criminalized drug. 

So in Wisconsin, a woman could be locked up the way Tamara was locked up, even for using alcohol, which is legal. 

Yes, that law absolutely permits them. It’s an incredibly vague law. It was promoted by right to life groups. Historically, it’s part of a long strategy to place into law in as many different places in the law as possible. The idea that unborn children from the moment of fertilization, defined as existing from the moment of fertilization, have completely separate rights and interests from the pregnant women so that police and prosecutors and doctors and others can do whatever they want to the pregnant woman. 

Another case that you guys have been active on, the case of Poovey Patel, a woman in Indiana, is has been charged with both feticide and neglect of the defendant after losing a pregnancy. How did that come about? 

All of the cases that were working on are revealing the true intentions or the true outcomes. If abortion is criminalized, if so-called personhood like measures pass, the clearing that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses should be treated as if they’re separate from the pregnant woman in the Indiana Patel case. It’s a very sad case around which I think the facts have not really been fully understood yet. A fetus or remains was found, I think, in the dumpster. They eventually identified Miss Patel as the person who gave birth to that fetus. They then charged her with two completely contradictory charges, one claiming that the baby was born alive and she neglected it. And that’s the neglect of a dependent. And no one thinks there’s anything wrong with that charge if, in fact, that’s what happened. But she says she suffered a stillbirth and didn’t know what to do. And the state has charged her with the completely contradictory charge, claiming that she somehow had a self abortion, obtain some kind of medication, had a self abortion, and therefore is guilty of the crime of fetus. That there wasn’t a life birth and there was no abandonment. It was that she had had an abortion. 

What is SPU aside under Indiana law? 

Well, feticide under 38 states have some version of that law. And again, it is part of a long term strategy by people who want to re criminalize abortion and locked up pregnant women and mothers. What they did is anytime there was an assault. On a pregnant woman, a violent assault, they would come in and propose these so-called feticide laws that would create a special penalty if somebody caused a pregnant woman to lose her pregnancy or if they harm the pregnant woman. And there was harm to the fetus or the child once born. These laws were always passed in response to violence against women or extreme negligence against a pregnant woman. And they’re all tasked in the guise of saying this is going to provide protection to pregnant women and their unborn babies. And what we found as our peer reviewed study found and ongoing applications of the law, like in Indiana, that these laws are being used primarily to punish pregnant women themselves, not protect them. 

Does Indiana’s law have any kind of exemption? First, something that a pregnant woman would do to herself? 

Well, most of the laws explicitly say this wouldn’t criminalize abortions. Some of them clarify or anything that the pregnant woman’s consented to. A couple of states, including Indiana, are silent. But what’s clear is that in order to make these laws applicable to the pregnant woman herself, you’d have to say so explicitly because what somebody else does to you, they hit you. They whatever is not the same as what you do to yourself. So the circumstances of pregnancy, of being a pregnant woman and then having the fact that you’re pregnant and whatever you do or don’t do become the subject of criminal law is so fundamentally and profoundly different from holding somebody who attacks a pregnant woman liable that you’d have to say in order to make it apply to the pregnant woman, you’d have to say this applies to the pregnant woman, too. But really, what the Patel case is revealing is those who want to criminalize abortion, half pretend to have claimed for the last 40 years that their goal is not to punish pregnant women. It’s not to lock them up in jail. It’s to protect them and to hold abortion providers responsible that those would be the only people who would go to jail. Clearly, the Indiana prosecutor is saying that they want to be able to use their criminal law without actually admitting it, without actually saying we are making it a crime for a woman to end her pregnancy. They’re using a feticide law that was passed after a I think a woman within a bank who is pregnant with twins was murdered, that we’re going to just use that law to essentially put into place Indiana law that says you are a woman who has an abortion. You can go to jail. 

And it’s odd because they can’t constitutionally criminalize abortion. I mean, they can regulate it, but they can’t say you doctor cannot perform abortions in Indiana. 

But somehow they think they have the right to say women can’t perform abortions on themselves in Indiana, that they do apparently, or they do think that they can hold women criminally liable once they become pregnant for actions that they take or will take, because usually there’s also the crime of attempted feticide. So in an earlier case in Indiana, Baby Shway at 33 weeks of pregnancy became so depressed that she attempted suicide when the father for future child announced he wasn’t going to be with her and he was abandoning her. Left her sobbing, according to one article, on her knees in the parking lot. She was so ashamed and so depressed in such a state of mental distress that she attempted suicide. Fortunately, friends found her. They took her to the hospital. She survived when they asked her to do anything to help preserve her pregnancy. She did what they asked, including undergoing cesarean surgery. The baby was born alive but didn’t survive. And they arrested her for attempted suicide. Her intention had nothing to do with ending her pregnancy. It had to do with ending her own life. It is not a crime in Indiana to attempt suicide. It’s not a crime anywhere in the United States to attempt suicide. It’s understood that this is a mental health issue, that making it a crime will not prevent it from happening. It will make recovery more difficult. And yet what they’re basically saying is that there is a set of separate and unequal law in Indiana that says if you become pregnant or even if you’re just carrying a fertilized egg and you attempt suicide, you self medicate, you don’t follow your doctor’s advice. We can arrest you for attempted suicide even if the baby turns out to be healthy because attempted primes are risk of harm. They’re not actually doing something. Or if you’re unable to guarantee a healthy birth outcome, we will arrest you for feticide or murder. 

What kind of evidence base to they have to even say. I mean, lots of babies are born with problems. Women who do everything right. How do they even prove as a legal matter that the thing that the woman did that they’re angry at her about. Was the thing that caused the problem? 

Well, that’s where class and race matter a whole lot, because we know in countries like El Salvador and in some states in Mexico where abortion is criminalized, women are not only going to jail for having abortions, but women who have had miscarriages and stillbirths. Who, as you suggest, may have been absolutely everything they possibly could have healthy pregnancy are going to jail as if they had abortions for killing their unborn children. And how do you prove it? Well, you don’t really have to prove anything if the person you’ve arrested can’t afford counsel or can’t find a public defender who is able to mount a defense that requires x big, enormous number of experts. That requires thousands and thousands of hours of work. And so what they’ll do is they will arrest women. Oh, the other thing you have to understand is that if you are charged with the crime of murder, you are not necessarily entitled to bail while you’re waiting to go to trial, which is what happened to pay Basch where they held this woman who was in such distress that she had tried to kill herself and was on continued suicide watch. They held her in a county jail for over a year, saying that she was charged with murder. They just charged both with attempted suicide and with murder of a viable fetus and that there’s no bail for people who in Indiana, in many states, four people were charged with that crime. 

Is there any legal limit on double charging people like that normally? I mean, if you’re charged with murder of a regular person, you must have attempted it. But can they still charge you did murder and completed murder for the same killing? 

You would think they can’t, but they can. 

And I’m going to I can certainly suggest some other experts to explain why, because I find it unfathomable. I don’t understand how it is that we’ve reached a point in our legal system where prosecutors have such enormous discretion to charge people multiple ways with the same crime. So what happens is virtually no case in America. A criminal case goes to trial because the charges have been so piled on that the person risks a lifetime. And any person who’s risking a lifetime in prison without the kind of defense that only the richest of the rich can afford. 

They’re going to plead guilty to something I read in The Washington Post the other day that something like 95 to 97 percent of criminal cases are settled out of court with a plea because people are afraid to go to court. 

Exactly. It’s pretty staggering. 

So this is very much you know, we already have a system of mass incarceration. And part of what national advocates for pregnant women is devoted to is trying to make sure that six million women who get pregnant every year in the United States, that they do not become fodder for the prison industrial complex, that they do not become potential subjects of the already outrageous level of mass incarceration that we have and recognizing that it won’t be all six million of those women. But the women who will be targeted are low income women and women of color who can not afford a fancy lawyer to bring in the experts in the case to show that it was a stillbirth, not a live birth. That it’s unconstitutional to say to women that however you deal with your reproductive life, whatever you do during your pregnancy can be the subject of a crime and incarceration. 

And it’s not just things that you do directly towards the fetus. Right. I mean, you guys have been involved in that federal case with that woman in Tennessee who got time added on to her conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine sentence because she was in a meth lab while she was pregnant. So she’s serving more time just because she’s a pregnant woman. 

That’s a very significant case, particularly because it was a U.S. attorney general under the Obama administration that advocated for this, a woman who whose life has many of the horrors and challenges that people who do actually develop addiction problems seem to often have. A family member died when she was very young. She developed I think she had some other potentially traumatizing experiences. She seems to have developed an addiction, which is a health problem, which even the Office of National Drug Control Policy says is a disease that deserves treatment, not punishment. She ended up working. And this is also an economic justice issue. She’s working for she’s making money by manufacturing methamphetamine. That’s a crime. She gets caught doing it. She pleads guilty and actually assists the prosecutors in prosecuting others engaged in that crime. But when they realize that she’s pregnant and there’s been all this political action in Tennessee, in the state where this federal crime occurred around expanding the state’s law to make their fetal assault laws applicable to pregnant women, they come in and say to the judge she should be punished more than the other people who participated in the manufacture of methamphetamine because she was pregnant while she committed the crime. Now, there’s a law that says you can enhance federal penalties for creating, I think, substantial risk of harm to a minor child. But there’s no law that says if you are pregnant and you do the same thing, everybody else is doing stuff because you got pregnant and stayed pregnant. You can go to jail for six more years than everybody else. And then the way that they argued it was shocking. I mean. Part of their argument was she was in a dangerous location while she was pregnant. Therefore deserves greater punishment. They were actually articulating the view that a woman who is pregnant and saved works as a firefighter works in a nail salon where there may be dangerous fumes. Women who work in any number of jobs that could expose them to danger should be seen as engaging in a punishable activity. And then they also made the argument that even though all of the people engaged at manufacturing were creating arrests, too, if you will, her unborn child only she should be punished with cancer. 

So they said, OK, yes, we acknowledge that the other meth cooks were making fumes, that she was breathing, that were possibly going through to her fetus. But they are not endangering the fetus. Only she’s endangering the fetus. 

Exactly. And, you know, we we’re reaching some moment. 

And she was actually making it. It wasn’t. She just happened to be there. Right. 

She pled guilty to participation in the manufacture of meth, methamphetamine. And this is in many parts of our country. That is the only work available to a growing number of people. And it is a form of work. It’s illegal. It has dangerous to it, as many other jobs do. But we know there’s a whole economic justice piece. Well, there’s a great documentary out there, by the way, called Remote Area Medicine, which is about doctors volunteering and flying in to remote places where people don’t have access to health care, setting up, you know, like a football field worth of dentists and doctors to just try to deal with some of their worst problems over the course of four days with people sleeping out overnight nights and nights to get a chance to see a dentist or a doctor. 

Where did this take place? It took place in rural Tennessee. Pretty shocking. 

This is a state where the governor has refused. Up until very recently to expand Medicaid at all and apparently has just recently agreed on minor expansions where we live in a country where people who have actual dependency and addiction problems can’t get treatment that they need, where people with the specific problem of opioid addictions are told by family court judges and a federal court judges and drug treatment court judges that they can’t access medication assisted treatments, even though we know those are the ones that work. 

If this precedent is, it may say, well, the woman who who got the extra time because she was pregnant in the meth lab. If that is allowed to stand. I know you guys are working to challenge it, but if it’s allowed to stand, would that set a national precedent? Because it’s a federal court in general. 

It would certainly set precedent for that federal district and it would encourage and invite other judges to do the same thing throughout the federal system. And it would encourage prosecutors to call for the same thing. 

What happens if you don’t know that you’re pregnant? Does intent come into it? Because it seems like any woman who’s sexually active with men in her reproductive years could be pregnant at any time? And it creates this kind of wild card about living your life, whether what you’re doing is legal or illegal. 

Exactly. I mean, what a series of other laws and what’s happening in Alabama really is sort of announcing is this idea that every fertile or sexually active woman by choice or not, has a responsibility every minute of every day to know whether or not she’s pregnant. Alabama provides a really good example. They test a chemical endangerment of a child law that was intended to punish adults who took children to dangerous places like meth labs. They have used it almost exclusively or primarily to arrest pregnant women who use a controlled substance as if your womb is a dangerous environment that you’re exposing a child to. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld it, citing biblical law as authority, citing biblical law. 

Yes. And saying that they cannot do that. 

Well, they did it. Justice comes when you have the capacity to challenge a decision and challenging it through the court system is something that we are all working on. That is something that takes years and years. It’s often the case that they will often tell you that the person is challenging. It doesn’t have standing and you have to start over. But the point is that what they did was they said the word child in that law in Alabama includes a fertilized egg that everybody knows, that chemical endangering the child includes endangering a fertilized egg. And because of the judicial interpretation, they have made the use of a controlled substance, even one prescribed by a physician, a crime in Alabama. But it’s also important to recognize that use of, say, marijuana in most states is not itself a crime. What’s a crime is possessing it. Well, let’s say you and your boyfriend are, you know, occasionally smoke some pot in Alabama. As a fertile, heterosexually active woman, you would need to know every minute of every day if you were carrying a fertilized egg because your use of marijuana would suddenly become a felony crime. 

But my boyfriend even. No marijuana can depress sperm counts and all of those things possibly cause birth defects. He doesn’t have to care at all. He’s not endangering a future child by having defective sperm that he’s carrying around. It might become a fertilized egg. 

Right. Means that he’s at risk. They’re both at risk for the crime of possession, but certainly not couldn’t be punished just for the fact that they used. And I think neither of them would, in fact, really be causing risks of harm that are ones that deserve to be addressed through the criminal justice system. 

They have done this in Alabama. Right. Just for marijuana where women have been charged with endangering their fetuses. 

Yes. And in fact, there’s a new case in which apparently a woman who had used a gate single unprescribed valiante while she was pregnant has been served with criminal charges, criminal felony charges. 

Wow. And it’s not we focused the bit on drugs, but the same principle. 

If the state has the authority to control and punish women because they are pregnant and it is perceived that something they’re doing is endangering the fertilized egg embryo or a fetus, it isn’t just about drugs. Women have been arrested who use alcohol. As you heard in the baby issue, a case women who’ve attempted suicide. Women have been taken into custody when it was learned that they were planning a home birth. And we have an increasing number of cases where women who disagree with a doctor about whether or if they need cesarean surgery are being picked up by police or threatened that if you don’t come in immediately, we will send the police out to get you. 

And the judges will sign arrest warrants to be like, you have to come take this pregnant woman and take her divorce battle against her will and perform surgery on her. 

Well, in one case, that happened in Florida. It’s several cases. It’s happened where the court in on an emergency basis instead of doing what they should do, which is saying this is not a criminal matter. This is this is a health decision. And pregnant women do not have fewer rights to make medical decisions than other persons go away. Instead, they know that the woman isn’t represented at these emergency hearings. Nobody’s saying, your honor. Calm down. You know, first of all, they’re exaggerating the risks of harm. Second of all, they don’t have a right to be in court. Third, you’re going to create more danger by frightening other women away from getting care. 

Do they have fewer rights to representation and advocacy than, say, somebody who is legally considered insane and wants to challenge their insanity? Because I’ve heard that sometimes those people get lawyers or advocates to go before the judges and make the case. 

One of the interesting things to me about this particular Wisconsin law under the children’s code is Wisconsin. It does have a civil commitment law that allows the state to take people whose drug use makes them a danger to themselves or others into custody and be civilly committed. But the law very clearly says at your very first hearing, where they’re trying to take you into custody, you are entitled to a lawyer. The law that added unborn children 300 times and focuses on pregnant women from the moment they become pregnant says that that initial hearing, the fetus or the fertilized egg get a lawyer. But specifically says that she’s not entitled to the same protection she would have under the civil commitment law. In other words, she’s not entitled to a lawyer at that first hearing that can result in her detention, complete deprivation of her liberty. 

Wow. I mean, aren’t these pro lifers, so-called pro lifers, concerned that this is going to incentivize abortion? 

Some do. There are. I think there are individuals who identify as pro-life, who have spoken out and understand that, in fact, there have been cases and there’s a North Dakota case where a woman at 11 weeks of pregnancy was locked up because they claimed your drug use was endangering your fetus. And she managed to get out of jail long enough to have an abortion. And lo and behold, the prosecutor dropped the charges and there was no longer an issue. So there certainly is an incentive to end pregnancies. There’s also, as every single medical group, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and you do not want to address the issue of pregnant women and drug or alcohol use through criminal justice and punitive responses. Because the effect is bad for babies, you will deter women from seeking help, just like in Tammy later case, the Aleesha Beltrán case, another case in Wisconsin, Rachel. All three of these cases where women go to the hospital to seek help and the result is that they are locked up, taking the initiative and doing the right thing to make them choose the healthiest possible places. 

And they still get locked. 

Exactly. And you have to understand that in Wisconsin, that law, because it’s under the children’s code, is protected by the greatest secrecy in the guise of saying, well, we don’t want some poor kid who’s being abused. There need to be all over the paper. There’s enormous confidentiality protections so that when the woman herself is dragged into that court as if by becoming pregnant, she herself is reduced to a child who has no rights. She is not allowed. There are real restrictions on. Revealing what happens at these sort of star chamber hearings. 

So it’s it’s like almost a parallel system to the regular criminal courts. This kind of murky family court that they’re sending women to in Wisconsin. 

That’s right. In Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina, they are applying the criminal laws to pregnant women. And in South Carolina, it’s certainly not limited to drugs. A young woman who attempted suicide. You know, a different case where a young woman jumped out of a building when she was pregnant. She survived. She suffered enormous injuries. She lost the pregnancy. And what did they do? They put her in jail for murder of child homicide by child abuse. And she’s she’s been convicted and is serving a murder sentence, as in the you described in The Washington Post in the article about what happens to most people who are arrested under our criminal laws today rather than sit in jail for an indefinite period of years. 

While she continued to struggle with her devastating loss of the pregnancy, her health problems that led her to jump out of the window to plead guilty to manslaughter. So they would not hold her there forever while people tried to challenge the legitimacy of a murder charge. That’s incredibly sad. It is incredibly sad. And there’s the conversation. I fear, you know, highlights pregnant women who are struggling with some serious problems. 

But the struggle is and none of the cases that I’ve had the privilege of working on are the biggest problems that the women face about drugs and never about not valuing their children, the children they hope to have the children they already have. It’s about poverty. It’s about lack of access to health care. It’s about prioritizing, fixing whatever presti drug problem they have over recognizing that the community they live in doesn’t have jobs, doesn’t have access to decent health care or education for the children that they will have that these issues, the drug war, the war on abortion, keep the public focused on blaming individuals and thinking that we can solve problems by fixing individuals and forcing them into treatment. That’s often totally unhelpful and inappropriate, rather than using those very same resources to say, what housing do you need? What Educational Services Union want health care. 

Mean? That’s all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for coming on the program. Thank you for having me. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.