Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Justice for Regina

I’m addicted to the Tudors. Love it. Love Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Do not love King Henry VIII. Nor do I love the incredible misogyny of the era. I mean, Anne Boleyn was hardly a saint, but even after all of her scheming I could not help but bristle at the injustice of her being blamed for failing to “produce a male heir…” or for her multiple miscarriages.

“What,” both her father and husband rail at her, “did you do to lose that baby?” Thankfully we don’t live in the 1500s…

Oh. Wait. What was that?

Well, turns out that a woman can -- in this decade -- be tried and convicted of homicide after suffering a stillbirth. Look no further than Regina McKnight.

Eight years ago, Ms.McKnight was arrested in South Carolina several months after suffering a stillbirth on the grounds that her cocaine use caused the loss. And -- despite no scientific or medical evidence that this claim was true, despite no arrest history, despite the prosecutors’ agreement that she had no intention of harming the fetus or losing the pregnancy – Ms. McKnight was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

For nearly a decade now, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and the Drug Policy Alliance have been working on this case. After losing a challenge on the constitutionality of prosecuting stillbirths under homicide statutes (!), her lawyers raised the question of whether Ms. McKnight received a fair trial. Ultimately the Court concluded that Ms. McKnight's counsel was "ineffective in her preparation of McKnight's defense through expert testimony and cross-examination."

So – after this woman spent eight years in prison -- a unanimous South Carolina Supreme Court finally reversed the homicide conviction. (Ms. McKnight will not, however, be released immediately because the State can petition for consideration and ultimately re-try her.)

I am extremely happy that Ms. McKnight’s conviction was overturned. Yet, I cannot wrap my head around the fact that she was prosecuted in the first place. I’m used to science being treated… ahem… carelessly (anyone remember the “controversy” over Emergency Contraception?) but despite the extremely problematic federal “Unborn Victims of Violence Act," ( as well as similar state laws), I’m still not -- and will probably never be -- used to homicide being applied to a fetus.

Unfortunately, what prosecutions and laws like these do – in addition to disincentivising drug-addicted mothers from seeking help – is grant independent personhood to a fetus, a very dangerous precedent with implications for women and mothers everywhere. (Note that the court’s opinion in this case makes clear that cocaine use is “no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care” and other conditions.)

Thankfully, Ms. McKnight had committed, compassionate attorneys on her side who recognized the injustice of her situation as well as a Court that ultimately listened to an aspect of reason.

If only Ms. Boleyn had similar counsel, perhaps she might have survived her own days at Court.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Taking some license....

Ok, this is not strictly (or even remotely) reproductive health, but I'm the blog author so I get to write about what I want.

And quite honestly the only thing I can really think about right now is the humanitarian catastrophe going on in Myanmar. For those who aren't following, after a devastating cyclone that left upwards of 20,000 people dead (6 days ago), the government has refused to accept and/or held up international relief aid. They finally agreed to accept food shipments from the UN only to confiscate the packages, causing the UN to halt shipments. They have also refused AID from the United States.

Meanwhile, an additional 75,000 men, women and children are dying/predicted to die. And this is not even to mention the disease that will be spread by decomposing bodies, many of which are in the water supply.

How a government can sit back and let its people die is beyond comprehension. As is the frustration by our inability to do anything to help.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Manhattan Mini Storage "hearts" Planned Parenthood

Following on the heels of its provocative and much talked about pro-choice billboard, Manhattan Mini Storage has officially made Planned Parenthood of New York City a beneficiary of their work.

As part of their new "Save more than your stuff..." campaign, Manhattan Mini Storage has committed to donating a total of $200,000 to 5 Manhattan based charities - including Planned Parenthood of New York City -- over the next 6 months.

"This exciting initiative gives New Yorkers the opportunity to fund the city's leading reproductive health care organization - without spending an extra dime! We thank Manhattan Mini Storage for including us in this campaign, said Joan Malin, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City.

When new customers rent space, they will be given a choice of 5 organizations to whom the company will donate money.