Mississippi May Rule a Stillbirth as Homicide and Prosecute the Mother
A Mississippi woman suffered a stillbirth four years ago and now shemay be charged with manslaughter. She was indicted by a grand jury who claimed that the woman, Nina Buckhalter, "did willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, kill [her daughter] Hayley Jade Buckhalter, a human being, by culpable negligence." Nina is being investigated because the district attorney argues that methamphetamine detected in Buckhalter's system caused Hayley Jade's death.
"Obviously, you shouldn't be taking drugs while you're pregnant," says Robert McDuff, a Mississippi civil rights lawyer who has joined with non-profit organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women to defend Nina. "But the notion of prosecuting somebody for murder or manslaughter, trying to send them to prison, is just crazy."
While it is still on the fence whether the prosecutors will prevail since the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case, many are up in arms over the very principle of the case. Additionally, the loopholes in this, as reported by Mother Jones, are many, as are the potential repercussions of the case for pregnant women state-wide.
First of all, Mississippi lawmakers have repeatedly rejected proposals that would make it possible to charge a person for damaging a fetus with the use of illegal drugs during pregnancy, but the state’s definition of a human being includes "an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.” Furthermore, manslaughter is seen as “killing of a human being, by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another,” which could be argued to include the use of illegal drugs. See? Convenient workaround, no?
This could also point to any number of activities, foods, or drugs taken by a woman during her pregnancy that are not recommended by a doctor. For example, "Doctors say women should avoid herbal tea, things like unpasteurized cheese, lunch meats,” says Supreme Court Justice Leslie D. King during the oral arguments. “Exactly what are the boundaries?"
Secondly, if the judge rules in favor of the prosecution, who could imagine the shockwave that it would send across the state? Pregnant mothers may withhold important information from their doctors for fear of being reported, they may be too afraid to seek help to curb their addictions or seek prenatal care, and some may even turn to the option of aborting their pregnancy when they wouldn’t normally have considered it.
In the case of Nina, since she suffered the stillbirth of Hayley Jade, she has since cleaned herself up, got pregnant again and gave birth to a healthy baby. She also completed an associate’s degree and was inducted into the honor society.
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