Mississippi's state Supreme Court is considering a case that could open the door for women who have miscarriages to be prosecuted for manslaughter, Mother Jones reported on Thursday.
The case involves Nina Buckhalter, a woman who gave birth to a stillborn girl in 2009 after she used methamphetamine during her pregnancy. A grand jury in Lamar County, Miss., indicted Buckhalter for manslaughter two months later, claiming that she killed the baby by "culpable negligence."
Buckhalter's attorneys challenged the case, arguing that if Buckhalter can be prosecuted for homicide for using meth during her pregnancy, a pregnant woman could be prosecuted for all kinds of unhealthy behaviors that may or may not lead to the termination of her fetus, including smoking cigarettes or exercising against a doctor's orders. The Mississippi Supreme Court heard Buckhalter's case on April 2 and is expected to rule soon.
"Doctors say women should avoid herbal tea, things like unpasteurized cheese, lunch meats. Exactly what are the boundaries?" Supreme Court Justice Leslie D. King asked during oral arguments.
Abortion rights advocates have argued that if states are allowed to jail women for stillbirths and miscarriages, that will set the precedent for fetal personhood laws that ban abortion and emergency contraception.
Virginia's Republican candidate for attorney general, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, introduced a bill in 2009 that would require women to report their miscarriages to the police. And an Alabama chemical endangerment law that was written to protect children from exposure to methamphetamine laboratories is being used by prosecutors to put women behind bars if their newborns test positive for drugs.
Buckhalter's defense attorney, Mississippi civil rights lawyer Robert McDuff, told Mother Jones that since the incident in 2009, Buckhalter has completed a drug rehabilitation program and earned an associate's degree at a community college. He said putting her in jail for a stillbirth "is just crazy."