September 23, 2019

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Standing with Melissa: Legal Voice Fights the Criminalization of Pregnant People Based on Their Birth Outcomes

5/17/2017

No one should be punished for a pregnancy outcome.

 

Yet, all around the nation, women have been arrested, jailed, and prosecuted - including Melissa McMillen, a Washington State woman who gave birth at home alone in her bathroom and was convicted of murder when the baby did not survive.

 

Melissa was made out to be a murderer for suffering a pregnancy loss. She is currently serving a prison sentence of more than 10 years for not seeking medical attention for a baby that she believed was stillborn. At trial, the prosecutor used the fact that she had not had prenatal care and had given birth without medical or midwifery care (known as an unattended birth) as "evidence" of murder.

 

In her first appeal, Legal Voice submitted an amicus brief with our allies, explaining that people give birth every day unattended, whether by choice or by accident of timing. Unattended births are not just a fact of life - they are a pregnant person's constitutional right.

 

By using lack of prenatal care as "evidence" of a crime, prosecutors put the people who lack access to health care at a higher risk of being blamed when something goes wrong. As such, punishing women for their pregnancy outcomes disproportionately targets people of color, immigrants, and low-income communities.

 

Despite our arguments, the appeals court upheld Melissa's conviction in January. But we aren't giving up, and continue to support Melissa and her legal team as they seek to right this injustice at the Washington Supreme Court.

 

In advocating for Melissa, we are working toward a world where no pregnant person fears arrest for their pregnancy outcome. But this doesn't just apply to births; we're also seeking protection for people who decide to end their pregnancies on their own. As a member of the Self-Induced Abortion Legal Team, we are developing innovative ways to fight the criminalization of people who decide to end their pregnancies outside of the medical system.

 

We are pleased that this oft unspoken threat on pregnant people's autonomy is gaining attention. But we know there is a long road ahead. Legal Voice will keep advocating for pregnant people so that they have access to the health care they need - without shame, without stigma, and without fear of prosecution.

 

More

 

- RELEASE: Advocates Urge Washington Supreme Court to Accept Challenge of Woman Convicted of Murder After Experiencing a Stillbirth, 5/17/17

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