You know how some people in certain states think that developing fetuses should have all of the rights to personhood that already born people get? I’ve noticed that some people have been doing their best to get over, based on that line of thinking. Personally, I have no qualms with it, since it offends me that some people value the unborn over the already born.
In fact, I laughed pretty hard last summer, when I read about, Brandy Bottone, a pregnant woman in Texas who contested a ticket for driving alone in the HOV lane. According to her, she wasn’t actually alone. I see that Brandy Bottone’s first ticket was dismissed, but then she got another one the following month for the same offense. The cop recognized her and asked when she was having her baby. She told him the baby girl would be born the next day, as he handed her another ticket.
When this situation first occurred, Bottone reportedly wasn’t trying to make a political statement. But then the question of what constitutes actual personhood really did make her wonder. When Roe v. Wade was overturned and Texas adopted very strict laws against abortion, some unintended consequences arose. One of them has to do with crime and punishment. Whether it’s a woman trying to get out of a moving violation citation, or a woman who has been accused of murder trying to get out of jail, denying pregnant people the right to bodily autonomy and acting like a developing fetus has rights means that there will be some new wrinkles in the laws.
Last night, I read another story addressing this phenomenon, when I stumbled across a Huffington Post article about Natalia Harrell, a pregnant woman in Florida who has been jailed since last July. Attorney William Norris filed an emergency petition last week on behalf of his client, Ms. Harrell’s fetus, currently at eight months gestation. Mr. Norris claims the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has not provided Ms. Harrell with adequate prenatal care.
Mr. Norris told NBC Miami:
“An unborn child is a person. A person has constitutional rights and one of them is the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.”
“I am asserting the right of someone who is a person who has not been considered in the decision to incarcerate his mother.”
According to the Huff Post article I read, Ms. Harrell has not seen an OB-GYN since October. Norris asserts that the corrections department has not provided sufficient prenatal vitamins or nutritious food. Ms. Harrell has not been taken to scheduled doctor’s appointments, and at one point, the pregnant woman was forced to sit in a 100-degree transport van that lacked air conditioning. Norris filed the petition when he was contacted by the baby’s father, who was concerned about his unborn child’s well-being.
Ms. Harrell has been incarcerated without bond since last summer. She’s accused of “fatally shooting fellow Uber passenger Gladys Yvette Borcela amid an argument after a night out in Miami.” Harrell’s trial is set to begin in April; she has pleaded not guilty.
It should come as no surprise that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has argued for the petition’s dismissal on the grounds that there is no evidence that Ms. Harrell has been mistreated. Officials at the jail have also “disputed the allegations about its care for the inmate, saying in a statement that it’s ‘committed to ensuring all inmates receive professional, timely medical care and all appropriate treatment.'”
However, Mr. Norris reminds us that Ms. Harrell has not yet been convicted of a crime; she has only been accused. He also adds, “she has a stand-your-ground immunity defense that her criminal attorney is going to assert. So her conviction is by no means certain.”
I am not familiar with the incident that put Ms. Harrell behind bars, however, I do think that if states are going to declare the unborn as persons with personhood, Norris’s petition ought to be examined. I know that on the surface of this case, some people will laugh. They want to grant rights to the unborn, as long as it suits their highly controlling and anti-woman agenda. But both the ticket situation and the more serious murder accusation highlight the unintended consequences that have come up since abortion has been pretty much outlawed in some places. An astute attorney is going to challenge the new laws, and rightfully so.
I do, however, have some concern that this kind of legal maneuvering could potentially backfire. More than once, I’ve written about how pregnant people inherently have different civil rights than non-pregnant people have. For instance, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and drinking a beer in a restaurant, there is a chance someone might call the police on you.
A few years ago, I blogged about Marshae Jones, a pregnant woman who was jailed because she got in a fight that resulted in her being shot in the stomach. Her baby did not survive. Police reasoned that since the woman hadn’t kept herself out of harm’s way, she was responsible for the unborn fetus’s death. The woman who actually did the shooting, Ebony Jemison, was not indicted; therefore, she remained free, while Jones was jailed and later released on a $50,000 bond. The charges against Jones were eventually dropped, but still, it’s pretty scary how easy it is for pregnant people to wind up incarcerated. And there have been other disturbing cases of women who have been incarcerated because of miscarriage after they’d allegedly done something that put the unborn fetus at risk.
So… what concerns me about Ms. Harrell’s case is that besides the murder charge, she might also be charged with endangering the welfare of a minor, child abuse, or something of that nature. Judging by the comments by MEN on the Facebook post about this story, I can see that a lot of MEN think that Ms. Harrell shouldn’t have any rights because she’s an irresponsible woman who put her unborn baby in danger. But if she’s been jailed since last July, that means she might not have even realized that she was pregnant! Moreover– I must reiterate– she has not yet been convicted. She has only been accused.
I think it’s unsettling to see how gleeful some people are to see others put behind bars. There are so many Americans who seem to rejoice in watching certain people lose their liberties. Personally, I don’t like to think of people rotting in prison, especially when they’re pregnant. Jails and prisons are not good places for anyone to be– especially those who are gestating a baby.
Jessica Kent, a popular YouTube v-logger, has heartbreakingly spelled out what it was like for her to be pregnant when she was in an Arkansas prison. She didn’t know she was pregnant when she got arrested. If you are interested in that subject, I highly recommend watching these two videos…
And again… lots of pro-life MEN, who seem to be very misogynistic and lacking in understanding about why a woman might want or need to have an abortion, are commenting on Ms. Harrell’s story. They’re fine with declaring the unborn a “person with rights” when it comes to putting pregnant women behind bars, but they don’t like to see the same logic used to get women out of legal trouble or released from incarceration. And I’d wager that the VAST MAJORITY of them want and expect the right to privacy when it comes to making their own medical decisions, right?
One particularly prolific Facebook commenter– a man named Nicholas– clearly thinks that late term abortions are very commonly done on a whim. That simply isn’t true; late term abortions are actually very rare. There aren’t very many doctors who will do late term abortions, and the ones who will do them are typically doing them in situations involving tragic medical complications that are no one else’s business. They are very expensive and traumatic, and they involve actually giving birth. So no, they aren’t done for “convenience”.
Moreover, if legislators want to grant rights to the unborn, then they should also make sure that pregnant people have all they need to give birth to healthy babies and be able to raise healthy children. That means access to nutritious food, competent medical care, and adequate rest and exercise for ALL pregnant people– including those who are behind bars. It sounds like Mr. Norris is arguing that his client, by virtue of still being in utero, is being denied his rights as a person– albeit an unborn one at eight months gestation. So yes, it’s good that someone is having a look at this dilemma.
While I don’t know the specifics of Ms. Harrell’s case or whether or not she’s guilty, and I do worry that this case could backfire, I also think that double standards are bullshit. If you want to incarcerate people for crimes against the unborn because they have personhood, you must also consider that the innocent unborn should not be incarcerated for crimes committed by their mothers. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this case.