The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
Imagine losing your baby only to be arrested for it.
That’s exactly what happened to Marshae Jones.
Last June, 27-year-old African-American woman Marshae Jones was indicted by an Alabama grand jury on manslaughter charges when she lost her 5-month-old fetus after being shot. The person who shot Jones, whom the police claimed was acting in self-defense, was not charged in the shooting. Jones, however, was held responsible for being in a fight while pregnant, and faced up to 20 years in prison. Due to a dedicated group of activists and lawyers — and public backlash — charges were dropped and Jones was set free. Unfortunately, Jones’ case is not that unique. Since Roe v. Wade, there have been several cases in which women were arrested for miscarriage or stillbirth.
Criminalizing pregnancy loss casts pregnant people as vessels rather than people.
A fetus is a person by law in Alabama, and therefore can qualify as a victim of homicide. Someone like Jones could be held responsible for the death of a person if her actions are judged to be negligent. And in states like Arkansas, the language that defines “fetal personhood” is extremely vague, so a person could potentially be arrested for waiting even one minute to call the authorities after a pregnancy loss, or for engaging in behaviors that could put a pregnancy at risk. In Arkansas, five women have been arrested for stillbirth or miscarriage: three between 1884 and 1994, one in 2015, and another in 2016.
Many of the laws that have been used to prosecute people for miscarriage and stillbirth are loophole laws, meaning that since the courts cannot technically arrest someone for losing their baby, other laws must be written that can punish the pregnant person in different terms but still have the desired effect. “Concealing a birth” and “concealing a death” are felonies or misdemeanors in several states, and many people arrested after miscarriage or stillbirth are often charged under these laws. Also, many of the laws that have convicted these women are those that give fetuses, and sometimes fertilized eggs, “personhood.” When a fetus is considered a person in the eyes of the law, the rights of the pregnant person are often swept away. Continue reading