The Criminalization of Bad Mothers - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 06-11-2012, 09:35 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Interesting read in the New York Times: 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/magazine/the-criminalization-of-bad-mothers.html?pagewanted=all

 

Enjoy :)

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#2 of 8 Old 06-12-2012, 06:44 AM
 
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Thanks for sharing.

 

What a mess.  I believe CPS should be involved, and mandatory drug counselling (well, mandatory if she wishes to live with her children), but I would not go as far as imprisonment.  I think losing a baby at 25 weeks and knowing your actions contributed to it are enough. 

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#3 of 8 Old 06-12-2012, 08:36 AM
 
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Thanks, Emaye, I read this a few weeks ago in the magazine and put it aside.  I agree with the premise of one of the contributors that this should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one.  It seems that at the heart of this issue is the "personhood" movement and that worries me because criminalizing the actions (or non-actions) of the mother could extend to a whole other range of issues, not just drugs.  I don't like slippery slope arguments but the idea that a woman could be accused of killing her baby due to things beyond her control is an additional concern for me.  Who gets to decide?  As someone who suffered from a very early miscarriage when I was out hiking, I'm afraid I would become a class of individuals who could be prosecuted under the law for not taking appropriate steps to protect my unborn child.  It just worries me.  The issue is so broad.


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#4 of 8 Old 06-12-2012, 09:09 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by kathymuggle View Post

Thanks for sharing.

 

What a mess.  I believe CPS should be involved, and mandatory drug counseling (well, mandatory if she wishes to live with her children), but I would not go as far as imprisonment.  I think losing a baby at 25 weeks and knowing your actions contributed to it are enough. 

 

What a mess is right! I agree, CPS should be involved if the kids are in danger but only in the context of helping the family become stable and not in a form of punishment. 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CatsCradle View Post

Thanks, Emaye, I read this a few weeks ago in the magazine and put it aside.  I agree with the premise of one of the contributors that this should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one.  It seems that at the heart of this issue is the "personhood" movement and that worries me because criminalizing the actions (or non-actions) of the mother could extend to a whole other range of issues, not just drugs.  I don't like slippery slope arguments but the idea that a woman could be accused of killing her baby due to things beyond her control is an additional concern for me.  Who gets to decide?  As someone who suffered from a very early miscarriage when I was out hiking, I'm afraid I would become a class of individuals who could be prosecuted under the law for not taking appropriate steps to protect my unborn child.  It just worries me.  The issue is so broad.

 

I feel exactly the same way. This one is pretty slippery -- as the article points out, what about drinking, smoking? These are legal but can damage the fetus. The case of the woman trying to commit suicide, miscarrying and then getting prosecuted is just crazy.  How is that there is not an outrage about this out there?! The personhood movement is pretty clever I have to say but I hope people see right through it. 

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#5 of 8 Old 06-12-2012, 09:19 PM
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Gosh.  I think this sets a dangerous precedent.  I think that there is a whole side to this involving assisted reproduction therapies and other laws that are being attempted in other states about when life begins and criminalizing miscarriages. I also don't liked he slippery slope argument, but there is enough momentum here that it starts looking like a possibility. 


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#6 of 8 Old 06-12-2012, 10:52 PM
 
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Gosh.  I think this sets a dangerous precedent.  I think that there is a whole side to this involving assisted reproduction therapies and other laws that are being attempted in other states about when life begins and criminalizing miscarriages. I also don't liked he slippery slope argument, but there is enough momentum here that it starts looking like a possibility. 

Slippery slope argument rubbed me the wrong way and seemed to be grasping at straws, until I read Pushed by Jennifer Block. I don't have an exact quote and it has been a few years since I read it, but something about a forced/court ordered cesarean (probably a VBAC in a hospital with a ban) and the woman having no recourse, could not take action against the dr/hospital and getting a response something along the lines of "it was in the interest of the state to protect the life of the unborn baby" That scared the crap out of me. 


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#7 of 8 Old 06-12-2012, 11:45 PM
 
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Very interesting article, about which I have conflicting opinions. I do wish people would stop bringing up The Handmaid's Tale in these contexts, though. Have they even read it? A legal change to recognise the fetus as a person would not result in women using slaves to bear surrogate children via sex with their husbands in a bizarre religious ritual, or babies being killed at birth because they were deformed, which is what the book is about. The book is not the logical end-point of a pro-life or even a sterotypical right-wing philosophy, nor is it meant to be; it's a fictional account of a dystopian future with some conflicting referents to various worldviews. Using it as a connotation word whenever pro-life/pro-choice issues come up isn't clever. It's just lazy journalism.

 

Anyhoo.

 

The title is also somewhat misleading - using illegal drugs is, by definition, illegal in the first place, whether or not one is pregnant. If these women had tested positive for illegal drugs while in the hospital for, say, a broken ankle, wouldn't they have been "criminalised" anyway? (Or if not, they "should" be, according to the law - right?) Obviously not to the same extent, because damaging yourself is looked on less askance than damaging others; but it's not like they weren't afoul of the law to begin with. So it's kind of a sensationalist title. Again... journalism.

 

I would hate to see pregnant women being scrutinised to the extent that someone like CatsCradle would be viewed with suspicion for hiking while pregnant. And of course as an MDCer, I'd hate the medical model of childbirth, which is often less safe for the fetus anyway, to become mandatory (ie, criminalising homebirths) under the guise of protecting the fetus. On the other hand, I'm pro-life, and I believe that knowingly exposing a fetus to, say, fetal alcohol syndrome (which, yes, isn't illegal) is hideously, grossly immoral. And yes, I do think that should come with legal consequences - you've essentially ruined the child's life. From a pro-life point of view, you had no right to devastate someone else's brain and body; and from a pro-choice point of view, having made the decision to have the child, you should accept the responsibilities which go along with that. I mean, I don't know any pro-choicer who thinks it's OK for a woman to have her fetus' legs amputated in the womb - even if you don't believe the fetus is a person at the time, it's undeniable that medical actions will affect the person the fetus eventually becomes.

 

Now, I don't think it should be a one-size-fits-all scenario, any more than any crime is. I'm not saying "slap 'em all in jail". There would have to be investigations as to whether the woman knew she was pregnant, how much she knew about the effects of alcohol on the baby, whether it was a one-time binge or a pattern of heavy drinking, whether or not she was capable of realising the import of her actions, etc. I don't think it would be impossible to determine, at least in the majority of cases, whether a woman had a one-time slip or whether she just didn't give a damn. Judges make those kinds of calls about cases of neglect and abuse for born children, after all.

 

In terms of the slippery slope, it's a tricky one. What's illegal for the population in general might be a good place to start (or rather, stop), so mothers who did meth wouldn't be put in the same category as mothers who hike - but then, in at least one of the examples mentioned in the article I think the law needs to be rethought anyway (medical marijuana). And that still leaves alcohol.

 

Even if there were limited exceptions for things like alcohol, though, would that automatically make women "second-class citizens"? I find that line of reasoning rather bizarre. Pregnant women are, biologically speaking, in a unique class, as people whose actions directly and biologically affect the welfare of someone else. (Well, not totally unique - I guess some conjoined twins would be in a similar boat.) It isn't "fair" to make the rules the same for everyone, if the fetus gets shortchanged in the process - if you believe in the personhood of the fetus, that is, which I do. It's not a patriarchal conspiracy that the placental barrier isn't absolute, or that drugs make for addicted babies; it's a biological fact, and ignoring that in the interests of making the rules the same for everyone seems to me to just push oppression downwards, to persons who by their nature have no voice or power to protest. It scares me that we're OK with that as a society.

 

I know this is disjointed, but I'm still sifting through my thoughts on the issue - I read the article a few days ago and have been thinking about it ever since.

 

Quote:
I think losing a baby at 25 weeks and knowing your actions contributed to it are enough.

Enough to what? That particular woman went on to be jailed for drug-dealing - it's not unreasonable to assume she was also using again. Would she have stopped if she'd gotten pregnant again? Maybe, maybe not, but she hardly comes across as someone who's learned her lesson and is determined to do the right thing for her kids from now on. (Then again, whether or not prison would have helped, or made her kids' lives better or worse, is a different story. It's a hard one.)

 

What about babies permanently damaged by FAS? There are mothers who go on to have future FAS babies, so clearly knowing that their actions contributed to their baby being deformed and mentally retarded ISN'T enough. Just like mothers can have babies taken away again and again for abuse or neglect. It would be nice to think that a guilty conscience would prevent repeat offending, but I don't think that's a reasonable hope - you know?

 

Quote:
Slippery slope argument rubbed me the wrong way and seemed to be grasping at straws, until I read Pushed by Jennifer Block. I don't have an exact quote and it has been a few years since I read it, but something about a forced/court ordered cesarean (probably a VBAC in a hospital with a ban) and the woman having no recourse, could not take action against the dr/hospital and getting a response something along the lines of "it was in the interest of the state to protect the life of the unborn baby" That scared the crap out of me.

Yeah, I've heard anecdotes like that too. I don't think that kind of scenario is a necessary consequence of personhood laws, given that the state is constantly dealing with the conflicting interests of various parties legally agreed to be persons. But it's obviously a possible way for people to exploit their pet hobby-horses about the Evils of Vaginal Birth or what-have-you, and legislators should be very aware of that.

 

Slippery slope arguments go both ways, though. Honestly, I think the reason you don't hear them as much from the other side is that in many places, the slippery slope has already happened - abortion-on-demand, partial-birth abortions, medical refusal to treat/save fetuses who survived abortion, medical refusal to treat/feed babies with certain conditions... you name it. The whole "after-birth abortion" thing was considered grasping at straws until recently, mind you...

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#8 of 8 Old 06-13-2012, 05:40 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Smokering View Post

 

 

Enough to what? That particular woman went on to be jailed for drug-dealing - it's not unreasonable to assume she was also using again. Would she have stopped if she'd gotten pregnant again? Maybe, maybe not, but she hardly comes across as someone who's learned her lesson and is determined to do the right thing for her kids from now on. (Then again, whether or not prison would have helped, or made her kids' lives better or worse, is a different story. It's a hard one.)

 

 

Enough punishment - or whatever the state intends for doing drugs while pregnant that contributed to infant loss.

 

I have no issues with the woman facing criminal charges for her drug use, selling etc.  None.

 

I question whether or not she should face criminal charges for her part in the her newborns death.

 

what is the purpose of jail?

 

is it to keep criminal off the streets?  Quite frankly, her actions are not dangerous to the public, other than the selling of drugs, for which it is fine if she faces charges

is it to act as a deterrent for others? I don't think this will work.  Drug addiction seems to trump everything else - including facing jail time, harming your unborn baby, etc

is it reform?  Unlikely.  She may very well come out worse than when she went in.  Moreover, even if reform is the goal - she hardly needs 10 years.

is it punishment?  In which case the loss of her baby is enough punishment for doing drugs while pregnant.  

 

___________________

 

On a personal note, I do not entirely disagree with you.  Once you have made a decision to continue with the pregnancy, you owe it to the baby and society (but mostly the baby) to take basic and reasonable measures to ensure the baby is born healthy.  Help should be available to those who need it - and for some intense drug issues, they might need a lot of help.  I am just not sure what should happen to those who are not able to act in a responsible manner.

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