Rennie Gibbs became pregnant at the age of 15 and subsequently lost the baby when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy in December of 2006. Stillborn, it was. Prosecutors in Mississippi discovered she had a cocaine habit and charged the girl under the 130-year-old “depraved-heart murder” statute — which is filed when someone is suspected of placing another person in imminent danger of death.
If convicted of the death of her child under this law, Gibbs faces a mandatory life sentence in the state.
As several outlets have pointed out, Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby. The case was argued before the Mississippi State Supreme Court way back on May 25, so currently, we’re just awaiting a decision over Gibbs’ fate. Their decision could have huge ramifications for the rest of the country.
According to one blogger, “It appears from the MSSC docket that the district attorney was the perennially loathsome Forrest Allgood. Even back in 2007, journalist Radley Balko said it was “rather chilling to think about how many people this guy has wrongly put in prison.”
“If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is,” said Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer who argued the case on behalf of Gibbs. “I hope it’s not a trend that’s going to catch on. To charge a woman with murder because of something she did during pregnancy is really unprecedented and quite extreme.”
The tactic of prosecuting an unsympathetic woman is a purposeful one to blur the line between abortion and homicide. Rennie Gibbs is just one part of the larger puzzle on the new assault against abortion. Since anti-choice opponents have come to realize they won’t have much success over-turning Roe vs. Wade entirely, they have attempted to chip away at it with minor encroachments like the de-funding of Planned Parenthood or by prosecuting miscarriages so that eventually pregnancy termination procedures will be so expensive and difficult to do properly that it effectively becomes banned.
It is a remarkably sly tactic that has produced detrimental results for something that is still a constitutionally protected right.
At least 38 states have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to be used against violent attacks by third parties like abusive male partners. But in South Carolina, only one case has been brought against a man for assaulting a pregnant woman, while up to 300 women have been arrested under the law, according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
These prosecutions are part of a much broader assault on women’s reproductive rights. Indeed, it’s been a banner year for the right’s war on women, with state legislatures passing a slew of restrictive legislation across the country that not only impede women’s constitutional right to abortions but also jeopardize their access to basic health care. Four states have defunded Planned Parenthood so far, a new Ohio law bans abortions as early as six weeks without exceptions for rape or incest, and Texas is one of several states that now forces women seeking abortions to undergo waiting periods and mandatory sonograms. Some groups and lawmakers are even pushing to outlaw contraceptives like birth control pills.
Studies have shown that abortion rates have remained fairly steady whether the medical procedure is legal or not, suggesting in part that making it illegal does little to deter women from having one. Yes, abortion is a political can of worms, especially in America. But at the end of the day the outlawing of the serious medical procedure could potentially be more harmful.
No woman takes the decision to terminate her pregnancy lightly, and Planned Parenthood would be the first to say its intention would be to make abortion safe, legal and a last resort.
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