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Mar 31 2011

More Indianapoplexy

Here’s the article from the ACLU:

On December 23, 2010, Shuai, a 34-year-old pregnant woman who was suffering from a major depressive disorder, attempted to take her own life. Friends found her in time and persuaded her to get help. Six days later, Shuai underwent cesarean surgery and delivered a premature newborn girl who, tragically, died four days later.

On March 14, 2011, Shuai was arrested, jailed, and charged with murder and attempted feticide. Had Shuai, who is being represented by National Advocates for Pregnant Women and local attorneys, not been pregnant when she attempted suicide, she would not have been charged with any crime at all.

Of course, no one would deny that what happened in this case is terrible and tragic, and probably no one feels that more than Shuai herself. But this case is about so much more than whether attempted suicide should be a crime — in Indiana it is not — and the death of her daughter; its implications go much further.

The state is misconstruing the criminal laws in this case in such a way that any pregnant woman could be prosecuted for doing (or attempting) anything that may put her health at risk, regardless of the outcome of her pregnancy.

That’s right: according to the ways the laws are being applied here, the state of Indiana believes that any pregnant woman who smokes or lives with a smoker, who works long hours on her feet, who is overweight, who doesn’t exercise, or who fails to get regular prenatal care, is a felon. And the list of ways these laws could be construed to unconstitutionally prosecute pregnant women goes on and on.

Allowing the government to exercise such unlimited control over women’s bodies, decisions, and every aspect of their lives, and to send them to jail when they disapprove of a woman’s behavior, would essentially reduce pregnant women to second-class citizens by denying them the basic constitutional rights enjoyed by the rest of us.

Moreover, what does it say about our society — about our obsession with incarceration and using the criminal justice system to treat public health issues, and with controlling women’s lives and treating women as if they were somehow separate from their own pregnancies — that we would give a life sentence to a woman who tried to kill herself, just because she did so, in a moment of utter despair and distress, at the end of a wanted pregnancy? Is this (or any) punishment really appropriate here? Does anyone really think this will somehow deter desperate and distraught pregnant women from attempting suicide in the future?

If, as a society, we truly cared about healthy moms and babies, our focus would be on how we can support pregnant women, not how we can manipulate our criminal laws, and undermine basic constitutional principles, to find new ways to punish them.

Sigh. I’m too dragged down by this stuff to have anything to add.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    Pete

    The next time an election time comes around we need to remember what is happening to our rights and freedoms and vote. I’m afraid the powers that be are doing a shock and awe campaign early and depending on the publics short attention span when 2012 comes around.

  2. 2
    LostFaith

    It seems that we fight against a brick wall sometimes. We definitely need to affect change, but how do we fight bullies like this?

  3. 3
    Fiona

    I just can’t, like you, it’s tiring. But, what can you do? Keep posting, keep highlighting, keep fighting.

  4. 4
    Mr Z

    Start digging now. All those in who care, dig deep. Not in your pocket, but in the news and public records. Time to show which public figures are linked to women who have had abortions or miscarriages or have been raped etc. These interpretations of the laws need to be turned on the lawmakers. I don’t mean in a nice way, I mean billboards and TV coverage kinds of ways. Do not fear them, shame them. It takes time and resource to comb public records and tax records and political PAC reports etc, so now is the time to start. Just as the most homophobic GOP Luddites turn out to be homosexuals, I’ll bet that these misogynistic lawmakers have skeletons in their closets. Time to rattle some bones. Talk to friends, find out how and who has time to comb the records. It’s called investigative reporting – time for the citizen reporters to get busy.

  5. 5
    Brent Royal-Gordon

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started reading Radley Balko, it’s this: prosecutors are scumbags. Not just about womens’ issues, but about almost everything.

  6. 6
    Guest

    [Sorry, looks like I managed to double post.]

  7. 7
    SpitefulFox

    Funny. Over here, I’m being prosecuted because I said the F word to a pregnant woman. If it’s not one imbalance, it’s another, huh?

  8. 8
    Jason Lang

    You know what? I’m sorta for them on this. Let’s make it illegal for pregnant women to not eat right, to not get medical checkups, to not have to work the critical parts of pregnancy and immediately after. 100%….Of course, that would mean that we’d have to institute some sort of food supplement and nutrition regulation program, medical assistance, and maternal leave payment program……and just so that we aren’t sexist, let’s extend it to the boys, too.

  9. 9
    Jason Lang

    Ahh… Double post.

  10. 10
    A-M

    I would have thought the Christian response to such an awful situation would be to offer sympathy, a shoulder to cry on and care to the poor woman suffering from an illness. Aparently I have completely mis-interpreted the ideals of Christianity – good thing I’m an atheist then!

  11. 11
    Phillip Helbig

    “Allowing the government to exercise such unlimited control over women’s bodies, decisions, and every aspect of their lives, and to send them to jail when they disapprove of a woman’s behavior, would essentially reduce pregnant women to second-class citizens by denying them the basic constitutional rights enjoyed by the rest of us.”While many who oppose abortion do so at least partly because they want to control women’s bodies, want to suppress sexuality etc, it is not the case that this applies to all such people. Even if you disagree with their position, you shouldn’t caricature it into something it isn’t. In the words of Phil Plait (words which I wouldn’t use in this context), it makes you look like a dick.It is also wrong to go to the other extreme and say that a woman’s rights trump all rights of her children (already born or not). A woman who poisons her children with arsenic should probably be charged with (attempted) murder. How is that different to smoking? If smoking is OK, severely impacting the health of children (born or not), is that OK since it is the woman’s right to smoke? If so, does that imply that it is OK to beat children (for whatever reason), since women’s rights trump those of children?I’m all for debate and severely criticising the other side is fine. But there are two things one shouldn’t do: resort to violence and make unsubstantiated claims about the other side (even if it is just about their motivation). This hurts those who want to argue in order to change things for the better, as opposed to those who want to argue just for the sake of argument.Many countries have (rightly, in my view) adopted strict anti-smoking laws. There is no constitutional right to smoke in places where it affects strangers. Why should there be a constitutional right to smoke if it affects one’s children? What this leads to is allowing children FEWER rights (constitutional or otherwise) than the rest of us.

  12. 12
    Jim Levis

    It is also wrong to go to the other extreme and say that a woman’s rights trump all rights of her children (already born or not).

    Yes, that would be wrong, but since it’s a strawman argument that you made up, I think we can dismiss it out of hand.

    A woman who poisons her children with arsenic should probably be charged with (attempted) murder. How is that different to smoking?

    You really don’t see how actively poisoning your child with arsenic is different from a woman who’s addicted to nicotine getting pregnant and being unable to quit? Also, smoking is still quite different than suffering from a depression so severe that you try to take your own life. Do you not see the difference there either? Are there things that it’s morally wrong for a woman to do while she knows she’s pregnant and expecting to give birth? Sure. But, I certainly don’t trust our legislators to justly draw the line where an action by a pregnant women is so damaging to her fetus that it constitutes a crime. I may be open to some sort of later civil action by the child if she can prove harm due to some negligent action during her mother’s pregnancy, but it should not be a criminal issue.

  13. 13
    Edgar Allen

    You damn liberals with your nanny state, arresting people for bad habits. All you want to do is tell people what to do, this is supposed to be the land of the free, whatever happened to that?What? Who?Conservatives?Oh sorry, didn’t realize it was my tribe. It’s all fine then.

  14. 14
    nyuutsu

    Sounds pretty lolsocialist, bro

  15. 15
    VeritasTruthseeker

    My soul* hurts when I read this.*I don’t actually have a soul.

  16. 16
    MrZ

    Are you out of your mind? That really nice strawman argument you have there justifies a whole bunch of other things. How long before it is illegal to live in a location that has low quality air/water/whatever because it might harm your un/born children? No child is viable until it’s crying and breathing, you know, a person. Until then it’s a “could have been”. Rights are assigned to persons, not wishes, dreams, or might be’s. Harsh as that sounds, you cannot assign rights to something which is “not yet”. If it becomes a person, it has rights. Now lets look at how your messed up strawman affects ACTUAL persons. If parents must be, by law, forced to act this way or that there will be a huge number of ACTUAL persons that are deprived of perfectly adequate families because those families don’t qualify for adoption. You condemn so many innocents to a loveless life that it hurts my mind.I AM a libertarian and I want you to know that your ideals are corrosive to society at large. You cannot tell parents how to act if the woman gets pregnant. Any pair of messed up jerk wads can have a baby. Would you sterilize those who can’t behave themselves or demonstrate appropriate decision making abilities? Does my daughter need permission from your government to get pregnant? And one last thing; who the hell do you think you are to be telling other people how to live? Worry about my life and behavior ONLY when it affects your rights. Worrying about it before that just makes you a dick.

  17. 17
    ElGatoCello

    Shit. At least you don’t LIVE here.

  18. 18
    VeritasTruthseeker

    I live in the second most conservative province in Canada, and we’d never, ever stand for laws like this.

  19. 19
    donK

    I know you will probably disagree with me but I don’t see the difference between an individual that assaults a pregnant woman causing to loose her baby (fetus) being charged with murder, and a woman assaulting herself (suicide). http://projects.latimes.com/ho

  20. 20
    ethanol

    You’re right I don’t agree. Do you think all attempted suicides should be charged with attempted murder? How about woman who try to seek abortions? If the answer to either of those questions is no, then I don’t see how you could possibly believe these cases were the same. If the answer to either is yes… well let’s just say that we really disagree. Also, I am a spelling pedant about precisely one word and that is “loose”. “Loose” describes your argument and it rhymes with “goose” and “noose”. The word you were looking for was “lose”

  21. 21
    Chippy

    This…is so sad. I know that from the outside it can be hard to imagine what could possibly drive a woman to put herself–much less her unborn child–in such a position, but through the lens of depression, those things don’t matter. I came very close to killing myself recently, so I speak from experience–in all likelihood, this woman was not thinking about what she wanted to do as murder in any sense, even of herself. Responding to a serious mental illness as a federal crime is not right. This woman needs help, and love, not condemnation and assault.

  22. 22
    Jed

    It is still taking away the pregnant woman’s rights. Enforcing anything like that would require knowing who is pregnant even before it is obvious. That would be a huge invasion of privacy of all women who could potentially get pregnant. Regardless of how well they would be treated, it would still be taking away their freedom.And as for as extending it to the boys as well, I can not get pregnant. So how does it get extended to me?

  23. 23
    izzy

    Wow. You don’t see the difference between an indvidual choosing to commit a crime – assault – and an individual suffering from a mental illness? Presumably you also don’t see the difference between someone committing assault and destroying a fetus and a pregnant woman dying of cancer. The baby dies in both cases, right? People don’t ask to have a mental illness, just like they don’t ask to get cancer. It is repulsive to criminalize mental illness.

  24. 24
    Jed

    I was going to post something very similar, although my problems with depression are relatively mild as far as these things go. I am going to add that it is my experience that it is not really something that you understand without either experiencing it yourself or having someone very close to you go through it.

  25. 25
    Triploblast

    Dude. It’s really not that hard to understand. 1) Depression is a mental illness.2) A fetus is not a person. A pregnant woman is (I know it’s hard to believe, but yes – pregnant women are, in fact, people).

  26. 26
    Kitsune Rei

    Oh my god your country is insane.I’m a law student (in Canada), and we had a case that was a lot like this, Dobson v. Dobson where a child who was born alive after a serious car accident (Mother was driving while 34-weeks pregnant, got in a severe accident, nearly died, child born via emergency C-section), through his litigation guardian sued his mother for negligence because he was severely disabled as a result of the accident (obviously a ploy for insurance money). The Supreme Court of Canada decided that you can’t sue your mother for pre-natal injuries BECAUSE OF FEMALE AUTONOMY ISSUES.Of course, in Canada we have 5 women on our 9-member Supreme Court, including the amazing CJC McLachlin, so that may have something to do with it.Wrongful life cases are also pretty interesting – this is what happens when a child through his/her mother sues a doctor for having let them be born, usually because they have some disability or something that had the mother known about, she would have terminated the pregnancy. They almost all decide that the child doesn’t have a right to life until they’ve been born and they’re weird too. Anyway, point is – until the child is born, they aren’t considered a separate human and they legally have no rights. And if they did, that would cause a problem; what if a woman slipped and fell when she was alone at home while pregnant and therefore caused injury to the fetus?

  27. 27
    Holytape

    Since republican policies of reducing health care to the poor, reducing nutrition programs, reducing environmental safe guards and promoting other programs negatively effect women’s health, can we charge them with murder?

  28. 28
    ckitching

    Actually, it is difficult to understand. Generally we all assume that everyone we meet has the same basic mind as our own. It’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who constantly has to battle hallucinations. It’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who feels completely hopeless for the future and doesn’t really know why. Those who don’t want to try very hard will come up with ideas like that those who are suicidally depressed should just go outside and get some fresh air, since that’ll cheer them right up. Or that those who suffer hallucinations just need to ignore them, because the hallucinations are obviously not really there.So, while I cannot understand, I can still sympathize. This woman was not truly responsible for her actions, and should not be treated as if she were. Worst of all, she should not be punished for attempting to hurt herself. There are times when we must punish those with severe mental illness despite the fact they may not be truly responsible for their actions (for example, the mass murderer who will always pose lethal risk to those around them), but this is clearly not one of them.

  29. 29
    Sam Barnett-Cormack

    Where’s ‘over here’?

  30. 30
    Sam Barnett-Cormack

    I’d imagine that the second most conservative province in Canada is probably comparable to the most liberal of American states…Also, it’s arguable that Indiana doesn’t have laws like that.

  31. 31
    Brent Royal-Gordon

    An EMT is driving an ambulance with a patient in the back when the EMT has a heart attack. The patient and EMT are both rushed to the hospital; the EMT survives, but the patient dies because he didn’t reach the emergency room fast enough. Is the EMT responsible for the death of the patient?If not, why do you give a different answer for the pregnant mother? Does the relationship between mother and fetus somehow make her responsible for things that are beyond her control to prevent? Or are you just playing armchair psychiatrist and declaring—contrary to the findings of medical science—that major depression is something she could have and should have controlled?(Bonus question: many drugs, including Prozac, carry warnings against use by pregnant women. If she had sought psychiatric treatment, gone on an antidepressant, and harmed her fetus or caused a stillbirth as a result, this prosecutor could still drag her to court. So what choice should she have made to stay within the law?)

  32. 32
    SpitefulFox

    Illinois. I just find it funny that just moving one state over goes from “Lets make life difficult for pregnant women” to “Pregnant women are fragile flowers that we must defend without mercy.”

  33. 33
    Poose

    Once again, I’m forced to say it:”And people still wonder way I left this chicken-shit State, and will nver return…”

  34. 34
    Poose

    oops-damned dyslexia…

  35. 35
    thewordofme

    99% of them are Republicans or tea party scabs. They are controlled by the religious right.

  36. 36
    Mr Z

    all the more reason to dig…

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