Feature

Jailing women who have miscarriages

With increasing frequency, authorities are charging women with crimes for endangering their unborn children.

Nina MartinProPublica.org

Rennie Gibbs was 16 years old when she gave birth to a premature, stillborn child, said Nina Martin. The apparent cause of death was the umbilical cord wrapped around the infant’s neck, but a medical examiner found traces of cocaine in Gibbs’s blood, and the teen was indicted for murder. Seven years later, after much legal wrangling, Gibbs may soon go on trial in a case right-to-life advocates see as a test case for “the rights of the unborn child.” If Gibbs is convicted, it could trigger a wave of similar prosecutions of women in red states, where poverty produces high rates of miscarriage and child mortality. With increasing frequency, authorities in these states are charging women with crimes for endangering their unborn children. An Indiana woman, for example, was jailed for a year for attempting suicide while she was pregnant, and an Iowa woman was arrested after falling down a flight of stairs and suffering a miscarriage. But threats to jail young pregnant women who are in trouble will only make them less likely to seek medical care or help. Is this the kind of society we want?

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