From The Grio — If you’re wondering why Republicans have been unable to work with Democrats to arrive at a political deal to prevent the American government from going into default, it might be because they’re too busy criminalizing 15-year-old girls for having miscarriages.

You read that correctly. Rennie Gibbs currently faces life in prison in Mississippi over a miscarriage she endured in 2006 when she was 15 years old, and she is not the first to face attempted criminalization of this kind (though she is the first to be charged in Mississippi). Prosecutors are allegedly targeting Gibbs because she has reportedly abused cocaine, but there is no evidence that her drug use contributed to the miscarriage.

Unfortunately, her case is by no means isolated, and in fact marks the continuation of a nationwide trend towards criminalization of pregnant women. Increasingly in the United States and around the world, laws are being created and prosecutions are being brought that would make pregnant women into criminals, many of these women of color like Rennie Gibbs.

Often created by conservative lawmakers, these laws attempt to assign fetuses “personhood” status, devalue pregnant women by reducing their identities to fetus carriers, and punish women for engaging in various behaviors.

Despite their dramatic posturing and elaborate rationalizations, the people driving these prosecutions are not actually concerned with keeping mothers or babies safe. If they were, they wouldn’t ignore the consensus of doctors and leading medical organizations, who have publicly opposed laws like these for years on the grounds that they scare women away from seeking the medical treatment they need and sometimes force doctors to turn in their own patients.

These seeming attempts to promote women’s and children’s health are actually thinly veiled attempts to chip away at abortion rights in this country by reinforcing the idea that unborn fetuses have “rights” and women’s legal identity should be akin to that of a fetus-carrying vessel.

Pregnant women need health care, not jail time. No matter your opinion about abortion, you can probably agree that sending young teenagers to jail for life because they weren’t able to successfully carry a pregnancy to term is a gross distortion of American justice and a terrible idea on its face.

While these laws may be crafted with a strategic intent, the implications are quite practical. Gibbs is really facing the prospect of life in prison. Already a mother, she now awaits a ruling on her appeal. “They say I’m a criminal, how do I answer that? I’m a good mother,” she said in a recent interview.

Surely the irony of threatening to leave three real-life children motherless by putting a young woman behind bars for allegedly endangering an unborn fetus does not escape you.

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  • Minnie

    @Terra nadir, No, I do not agree that a woman’s autonomy should be judged or persecuted. Women should have the freedom to engage in whatever behaviors they desire, whether it is health or not for them. And let me be clear, there is NO WAY that I agree that a 15 year old pregnant girl should be imprisoned, especially not for past drug use. If anyone wishes to interfere in her already troubled life, then it should be to help her and her baby, which prison certainly does not do. I apologize for getting off topic, but I brought up abortion because abortion and what these people are proposing as a law pivot around the same problem: determining the personhood of the fetus. If the fetus is dehumanized, then there is no problem with aborting it or engaging in risky behaviors while carrying it. Yes, women have rights and no, women should not be persecuted because of their biology, but unfortunately, when a woman becomes pregnant, it is no longer all about her, and the choices she makes will affect the baby she is carrying. I want to believe that this is the logic those lawmakers are attempting to follow, but they are doing an awful job of it with this 15 year old girl.

    • terra nadir

      I hear you Minnie. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree. I think we agree that we can’t and shouldn’t prosecute women for being a “bad pregnant mother.” Cigarette smoking and alcohol can be just as devastating as illegal drugs on fetal development. Thus, if the concern is the effect on the developing fetus then it doesn’t matter if the drug is legal or illegal, the women would have to be prosecuted in the same way. Which would be absolutely insane and unworkable. Similarly, making abortion illegal is also unworkable. Even if one believes that abortion is immoral (which I don’t) making it illegal will be a disaster. Women who want them will always have abortions. Wealthy women will have safe ones in parts of the country and the world where they are legal, poor women will have dangerous ones and kill themselves and their fetuses in process. Case in point, when I volunteered as a patient advocate at a clinic that performed abortions, the largest group of women who had them were not, teen moms, or fast girls who did not want to be responsible. The largest group were actually married, Catholic women who already had large numbers of children whose families could not afford one more mouth to feed. They had their abortions generally with the support of their husbands. They had these incredibly large families of course becuase their faith limited their birth control to the rhythm method which is notoriously ineffective… (sigh). Their church told them that they had to accept as many children as God blessed them with. When that ediict hit upon the realities of having to flipping live and support the six children they were already “blessed” with their decisions were not suprising. Most people are rational actors.

  • Minnie

    @ Terra, I agree with your line of reasoning, No one is going to put the women who smoke and drink while pregnant in jail. As a matter of fact, I was working in the Labor and Delivery department yesterday, and I helped deliver not one, not two, but three babies to mothers who admitted that they were still smoking prior to their spinal block. I also did not know that in your area a large number of Catholic women were getting abortions, though it makes sense. Even here in the south, I believe that statistic might be the same because the majority of teen/young unmarried women keep their children here. I think the only real thing we disagree on is the personhood issue. I do not like abortion, but if it is going to cause more problems for women and babies than it helps, then making it illegal is not the solution. We should be putting more effort into educating women, supporting them, and empowering them. Thank you for your point of view, it definitely gives me a lot to think about.