Pregnant Women Who Endure Stillbirths Face Murder Charges

 

Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed is no ordinary killing.

Rennie Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth, when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit, they charged her with the “depraved-heart murder” of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence. There is not an iota of evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death, but the prosecutors decided they knew better than Ms. Gibbs what her intent was.

This young woman now faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child. Yes, you read that right. I am no lawyer, but this is obviously wrong, on all possible grounds. How can going through the emotional and physical agony of a stillbirth at 36 weeks make a woman a murderer?

Punishment Instead Of Protection

But it gets worse. Gibbs may be the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby, but in other states more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.

Earlier this year, Care2′s Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote about the murder charges that were filed against an Indiana woman who attempted suicide in a late stage of her pregnancy. Bei Bei Shuai ingested rat poison in December, trying to end her life because her boyfriend had abandoned her; she was taken to the hospital by friends and got help in time. When her child was born, though, she was first put on life support but then removed when doctors determined that they could not save her. Shuai, 34, has spent the past three months in a prison cell in Indianapolis charged with murdering her baby.

Mississippi, Indiana, Alabama, And Counting

And there’s more. From The Guardian:

In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state’s “chemical endangerment” law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine in the home and thus putting their children at risk from inhaling the fumes.

Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way. During her pregnancy her foetus was diagnosed with possible Down’s syndrome and doctors suggested she consider a termination, which Kimbrough declined as she is not in favour of abortion.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth.
Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with “chemical endangerment” of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy a claim she has denied.

“That shocked me, it really did,” Kimbrough said. “I had lost a child, that was enough.”

Ms Kimbrough now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama; if she loses, she will face a 10-year sentence behind bars.

The Criminalization Of Pregnant Women

In a move to criminalize pregnant women, at least 38 of the 50 states across America have introduced fetal homicide laws that were originally intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks by third parties, but are increasingly being turned by prosecutors against the women themselves.

“Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws,” said Lynn Paltrow of the campaign National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), as first reported in The Guardian. “It’s turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights.”

This course of events is a huge step backwards for women’s rights in America. Please sign our petition urging the representatives of those 38 states to stand up for the rights of pregnant women today.

 

Related Story

Pregnant Woman Who Attempted Suicide Now Charged With Murder

Photo Credit: Emery Co Photo via Creative Commons

 

356 comments

Wileen C.
W. C7 years ago

Thanks for the information.

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Christine T.
Ciara T7 years ago

O good lord. What a "great" justice system we have. So typical of the courts making up ridiculous charges when it can't be tough where it matters. That just shows you how ineffective and spineless the whole system is any more.

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Craig Gosling
Craig Gosling7 years ago

No,no,no. If it can be proven that a person, woman or man, is the direct cause of an intentional miscarriage, only then should legal action be taken. In the case of a drug/alcohol addict, with a history of drugs and pregnancy, the court system should determine whether or not she should be made to use birth control, until the danger of abuse is gone. Permanent sterility might be considered in extreme cases. Of course, this is one of those situations where no fool-proof remedy is available. Our legal system can only do its best to prevent this from happening again. Drug addicts like habitual traffic offenders must give up some of their rights if they cannot abide by the laws.

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Rose Balcom
Rose Balcom7 years ago

Women have had stillbirths since time began and they haven't done anything to cause them. To prosecute these women is a travesty of justice.

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Verity W.
Verity W.7 years ago

I'd like to point out the 'woman' in question is in fact a CHILD she was pregnant at 15 and on methamphetamines - does that sound like a healthy happy child? How was the father of the baby, as she raped or abused (as opposed to 'just' statutory raped in order for her to get pg).

How on earth does any sane person think that a child of 15 with a drug habit (where the heck was she getting that stuff from & with who's money?) is really and truly responsible for her baby suffering a still birth unconnected with her drug taking? She should have been given a place at rehab and grief counselling not thrown in prison.

I would imagine a 15 child with a drug habit wasn't in a good position with regard to her health (otherwise somebody would have picked up on it before hand), wouldn't be eating properly (wasn't amphetamines used to suppress pg women's appetites in the 50's/60's?) and might not have her family supporting her.

A very sad situation all round. I sincerely hope she gets the help she needs to get off the drugs, finish school and live her life as a responsible member of society when she is an adult.

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Maura O.
Maura O.7 years ago

All for this...you can't have it both ways people. A third party would be charged with attempted murder if they poisoned a mom to be, tried to push her off a building but its ok for these so called moms to be to ...cook drugs while pregnant, take cocaine while pregnant and try to kill themselves and their unborn child....They all deserved to be charged, they certainly put the fetus in harms way without a second glance. But if someone else did this and the baby dies you'd all be up in arms....

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Cynthia G.
Cynthia G7 years ago

It's not that simple. The fetus/ infant's meconium stools reveal what mom has exposed her baby to. Accusations would not have been made without some evidence. Prenatal vitamins & Tylenol are the only medications we feel comfortable giving pregnant women. They are constantly counseled to avoid smoking, alcohol, street drugs, unnecessary medications to avoid harming their babies. Most mothers make the necessary sacrifices to protect their young.
Mom has been warned about endangering her child but has chosen to anyway. If they would at least be honest about what they were using providers could intervene, take precautions & sometimes save the babies & moms.
A couple of months ago I saw a patient who was upset after she had lost her 5th child at 37 weeks from preeclampsia. She blamed the death on her prenatal providers who had let her her leave the hospital before her blood pressure had been controlled. When I saw her chart I found that the meconium was positive for amphetamines & she had not sought medical care when the baby stopped moving. Her smoking & drug use had raised her blood pressure & caused preeclampia endangering herself & her baby. No, it was not murder, she had not intended to kill her child but she was a participant in the fetal demise.
She, her husband, & their children all suffered the loss of a child/ sibling.. The providers had not had the information to respond preemptively. The hospital's mortalityrate was neg

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Judy G.
Judy G7 years ago

right it sounds like a war on women. Whens the dark ages over.

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Cheryl B.
Cheryl B7 years ago

weird

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Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W7 years ago

I bet there are fanatics who'd burn her at the stake if they could.

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