Mississippi Poised to Begin Prosecuting Women for Stillbirths, Miscarriages

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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A Lamar County grand jury indicted a woman in 2009 for manslaughter, just two weeks after she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. The Mississippi Supreme Court is set to rule whether the prosecution can move forward in the case, setting a precedent for all Mississippi women who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths.

As noted by Mother Jones, the district attorney claimed Nina Buckhalter "did willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, kill Hayley Jade Buckhalter, a human being, by culpable negligence” 31 weeks into her pregnancy. Prosecutors say methamphetamine found in Buckhalter’s system caused the death of her unborn child. They appealed an initial order that threw out the manslaughter indictment.

Buckhalter’s defense team said if the prosecution prevails in the case, it will set a “dangerous precendent.” It would mean "unintentional pregnancy loss can be treated as a form of homicide," said Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) filed an Amicus curiae with the Supreme Court of Mississippi on behalf of medical, legal and public health organizations in opposition of Buckhalter’s indictment.

“A conviction here could create far-reaching bad legal precedent that brands as potential criminals any woman who suffers a lost pregnancy, thus endangering the health and well-being of Mississippi women,” the AMWA said.

A dozen groups were represented by the brief, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some of the issues address in the brief include: "The prosecution of Ms. Buckhalter is based on medical misinformation and myth rather than peer-reviewed, accurate medical evidence" and that "The prosecution of Ms. Buckhalter endangers public health by jeopardizing the therapeutic relationships between women and their health care providers and deters access to important services."

Manslaughter laws in the state do not apply to fetal stillbirth and miscarriage, and four times lawmakers have refused to make amendments that would extend manslaughter to include damage to an unborn fetus by illegal drug use.

Sources: Mother Jones, AMWA