Early in her pregnancy, she said, she had been tested for Down’s Syndrome and was advised by doctors to travel to Birmingham, Alabama for an abortion at 20 weeks. “I refused,” she wrote bluntly.
Five weeks later, she began having difficulties with her pregnancy. She knew she was high risk in any case – her first two children, Kimberly “Nicole”, now 16 and Kailey, 13, had both been born prematurely at seven and eight months respectively.
At 25 weeks and five days into her third pregnancy, Kimbrough went into labor. […]
After the stillbirth, Kimbrough’s obstetrician diagnosed “occult cord prolapse” – the umbilical cord had descended through the birth canal ahead of the fetus, cutting off blood flow. Yet the authorities chose to ignore that finding, focusing instead on another detail that emerged after the death – that a urine sample taken from Kimbrough had shown traces of the drug methamphetamine. […]
At her trial, Kimbrough was warned that if she was found guilty, she would face a mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison. In the end, though, she felt the deck was too stacked against her to take that risk.
When her trial lawyer asked the court to be allowed to call an expert medical witness to testify that Kimbrough’s drug problems were not responsible for her son’s stillbirth, the request was denied. So she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years.
[HJH 2015-10-7] This is part of a growing trend. In some states, drug tests are administered to patients without their consent or knowledge, in the interest of finding more people like Kimbrough. A 2013 study found
- 413 cases in 44 states, the District of Columbia and federal jurisdictions from 1973-2005, a number that is likely a substantial undercount and does not include more than 250 known cases that have occurred since 2005; …
- The women subjected to deprivations of physical liberty were overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged; …
- African American women were found to be significantly more likely to be arrested, reported to state authorities by hospital staff, and subjected to felony charges;
The study found in a majority of cases, no adverse pregnancy outcome was reported and that where an adverse outcome was alleged, state authorities were typically not required to provide expert testimony or scientific evidence to prove that the pregnant woman’s actions, inactions, or circumstances would or in fact did cause the alleged harm.
The study documented cases in which fear of arrests and forced interventions deterred women from seeking help for themselves and in some cases for their newborns. These findings are consistent with the medical and public health consensus that punitive measures, and the legal arguments supporting them, will undermine rather than further state interests in child, fetal, and maternal health.
Don’t buy the “we’re doing it the help women” line coming out of the anti-choice movement; their goal is to punish poor people, and spread fear and shame over sex.
[HJH 2015-10-07: Added the bit about mandatory and nonconsensual drug tests]