Alabama imprisons pregnant marijuana users to ‘protect’ fetuses | Moira Donegan


ADuring a traffic check, the police officer found a small amount of grass. Ashley Banks, a 23-year-old woman living in Alabama, confessed to cops that she had smoked marijuana two days earlier. It was the same day that she found out she was pregnant. She was six weeks old. It was this revelation – that she was pregnant – that led Etowa County officials to keep her in jail, without trial, for the next three months.

Alabama has an exceptionally high level incarceration rate, locking in about 938 people per 100,000 population. But even in a state with a disproportionate prison population, an arrest for small-scale drug possession generally wouldn’t lead to such an extended stay in prison before trial. But Banks fell victim to a particular Alabama law that defenders say Etowah County enforces with particular zeal: Pregnant women who are arrested for drug offenses are not allowed to post bail and go free, like other people. They must remain in state custody: either in prison or in a residential drug treatment program. The logic is that women are a danger to their fetuses: they need to be imprisoned by the state, and deprived of their freedom, in order to protect their pregnancies.

In Banks’ case, prison officials attempted to send her to rehab, but after an evaluation, the facility dismissed her: Banks, they said, was only an occasional drug user. of marijuana, not a drug addict, and did not need hospital treatment. Too healthy for rehab, but not trustworthy enough of the state to be released, she was kept in limbo in prison. Meanwhile, Banks’ pregnancy was not going well. She has a family history of miscarriages and was bleeding in prison. At one point, prison officials assigned her to sleep in a bed that was already occupied by another prisoner; Banks was sleeping on the floor.

She’s not the only one. Another woman, Hali Burns, was taken to Etowah County Jail just six days after giving birth to her son, with police saying she tested positive for a drug used by pregnant women with addictions to opioids to help manage cravings and withdrawal. When she was thrown in prison, Burns was still in physical recovery after giving birth. But the prison had no facilities for her to pump or treat her wounds. Her partner tried to bring her towels and underwear so she wouldn’t have to bleed into her clothes, but Etowah County officials wouldn’t let her have them. The risk of infection was great – the indignity was even greater.

Stories like those of Banks and Burns – the unnecessary and disproportionate incarceration, the loss of liberty and recourse inflicted on them on the basis of their pregnancies, the cruelty justified by authorities as “protection” of a fetus – multiply. Alabama criminalizes more pregnant women than any other state. Last year, Kim Blalock, a mother of six from Florence, Alabama, was charged with a felony for filling a long-standing prescription from her doctor while pregnant. Prosecutors accused the drug, which Blalock was taking as prescribed, of injuring her fetus and that she should have known not to be refilled. (Blalock later gave birth to a healthy baby boy.)

But these imprisonments aren’t just an Alabama thing: The trend of imprisoning pregnant and postpartum women for allegedly endangering their fetuses is growing across the country. In 32 years, from 1973, when Roe v Wade was decided, to 2005, the United States has seen a total of 413 pregnancy lawsuits nationwide, according to Afcha Malikassociate researcher at reproductive justice group National Pregnant Women Advocates and co-author of a recent report on the criminalization of pregnancy. But over a period of just 14 years, from 2006 to 2020, there were more than 1,300 such cases. This large increase occurred while Roe was still in place; now that it has fallen, the criminalization of pregnancy is likely to accelerate even more. “We know we’re going to see more examples of pregnant people being criminalized for behavior that can be [seen as] justified for the general public, such as substance use,” Malik told the Nation. “[Other] the cases that we have seen are going to accelerate, like [for] falling down the stairs, giving birth at home, not seeking prenatal care, having HIV, having an abortion and miscarriage.

Yet Etowah County seems to be a hotbed for this particular type of misogynistic cruelty. NAPW says that the county has imprisoned 150 pregnant women in recent years; no less than 12 are currently being held in his prison.

The Dobbs decision did not create this state of affairs, but it risks making it worse. The politics in place in Etowah County and elsewhere expose the twisted logic and hateful nonsense of the anti-choice worldview. The movement claims to see embryos and fetuses as persons, and in practice they speak as if these “persons” were not the equals of women, but their superiors: the fetus is seen as more important than the woman, more worthy, less soiled by them. things that make a pregnant woman so unattractive – her femininity, her sexuality, her tendency to have human desires and human struggles, like irritation, dependency, or anger. In the service of the protection and advancement of this superior being, the fetus, the anti-choice movement argues, it is justifiable, even necessary, to steal the freedom of these inferior women.

Yet the practice of imprisoning women to “protect” their fetuses and infants is meaningless in and of itself. Prisons are dirty, desperate and violent places; Banks, who had a high-risk pregnancy, bled frequently while incarcerated and had no access to medical care. Burns, who was arrested just days after giving birth, was unable to care for her new son or baby girl. Nothing the anti-choice movement does can be said to protect anyone – not fictional “people” imagined in an embryo or fetus, not real living children deprived of their mothers, and certainly not women. pregnant and postpartum, shamed and thrown into cages, still bleeding from giving birth. One begins to suspect that the only value the anti-choice movement really sees in fetal “people” is the pretense that it allows misogynistic sadism in them.


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