She had a stillborn baby. Now she’s being charged with murder.
November 8, 2019 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Her case is part of a nationwide problem, advocates say. California is one of dozens of states around the country where a person can be charged with a crime for harming a fetus through behaviors like using drugs while pregnant....These laws are intended to prevent harm to a fetus, but they can backfire, making people less likely to seek prenatal care. A recent study found that laws defining drinking during pregnancy as child abuse were actually associated with worse health outcomes for babies, possibly because they discouraged pregnant people from going to the doctor.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (13 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 

These laws are intended to prevent harm to a fetus, but they can backfire, making people less likely to seek prenatal care.

Is it a backfire or is it the intent? These fascists won't rest until we're all in jail for one reason or another.
posted by bleep at 4:12 PM on November 8 [24 favorites]


This is a known issue in places like Indiana, where it is used in a consistently racist fashion (see Purvi Patel, Bei Bei Shuai mentioned in article). But it's a little surprising to see California in the list.

California law defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought,”

Can any Californians shed light on how this got into state law and why it hasn't been taken out?
posted by Not A Thing at 5:04 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


As a layman it doesn't make any sense to me how the law could apply to this scenario. It doesn't seem like there's any reason to believe that the mother had any malice aforethought (i.e. she did not intend or desire to kill the fetus), and furthermore, her drug use was obviously "solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus," since she was the mother.

What's the deal? Is it just total nonsense that will get dismissed by the court, like the cases linked at the bottom of this article?
posted by value of information at 5:14 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


These laws are intended to prevent harm to a fetus, but they can backfire

Nope. That's not what these laws are intended to do and they aren't backfiring.
posted by East14thTaco at 5:19 PM on November 8 [40 favorites]


California law defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought,”

Can any Californians shed light on how this got into state law and why it hasn't been taken out?


That law is about 35 years old and was targeted specifically at men who attacked their pregnant partners / family members in an effort to prevent the pregnancy from being brought to term either by beating the woman till she lost the pregnancy or killing her. It hasn't been "taken out" because its a useful law that targeted a very large and widespread problem.

Eta: its actually not clear to me this was applied here or if she was charged under a seperate law about harming a fetus but that is the origin of the CA law for murder applying to fetuses. As I recall there were a few high profile cases
posted by fshgrl at 5:39 PM on November 8 [3 favorites]


The California case is odd to me.
Based on websites that track this, it appears to be about this law.

Which not only requires "malice aforethought", but says:

(b) This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act that results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply:
(3) The act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.


And goes on to further define malice.
All of which seems to make applying it here bizarre.
To which my sort-of-hopeful conclusion is that courts will throw this out instantly and its a bad prosecutor.

This is heightened by the fact that this happened in Kings County, which is strongly Republican pro-Trump part of the state.

So I suspect this is less of a problem with California and more of a problem with the prosecutor.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:42 PM on November 8 [10 favorites]


The reporting on this makes it hard to know which law she was charged under but I agree, its Kings County, they probably didnt think about it a whole lot and it'll end up in higher court. I imagine the fact this is her fourth child and CPS was involved with the prior 3 was a major factor too.
posted by fshgrl at 5:52 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


Good thing abstinence programs are the perfect and complete solution to this problem. /s
posted by clawsoon at 5:56 PM on November 8 [7 favorites]


The cruelty is the point.
posted by JohnFromGR at 6:00 PM on November 8 [14 favorites]


If the law at issue is the murder statute, looks like the "or a fetus" language was added in 1970 in legislation signed by Ronald Reagan (who later forgot he was the one who signed it). Since it predates Roe v. Wade and was enacted at a time when California only had very limited allowances for abortion, it likely belongs in a somewhat different category than more recent forced-birth initiatives along these lines. And per thefoxgod above, the danger inherent in having any laws on the books that equate fetal and human life seems to have been largely defanged by subsequent language excluding voluntary abortions. (Which, as noted, should seemingly stop this prosecution in its tracks.)

Still, it seems significant that forced-birth orgs have been at the forefront of advocacy for strengthening and expanding the law.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:33 PM on November 8 [3 favorites]


Our fish and fox have the right of it.

This is a political stunt. Devin Nunes’ district includes parts of King’s County.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:12 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


A friend is raising a child her sister had while on meth. He's a sweet kid but he has some physical developmental issues and severe emotional issues that are appear to be organic and will follow him into adulthood. If people really cared about these unborn babies they'd be offering an attractive residential rehab option to pregnant addicts, not driving them away from doctors.
posted by fshgrl at 11:28 AM on November 9 [8 favorites]


If people really cared about these unborn babies

Hah! Hahahahahaha. Ha.
posted by corvikate at 8:37 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]


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