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Paternalistic Hypocrisy in Alabama

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The NY Times ran an article today chronicling a spate of prosecutions in Alabama of women who carry a child to term despite a drug addiction. Greg Gambril, a local Alabama prosecutor, is bored without any murders in his sleepy town, so he has decided to prosecute women for bearing children. The women are being singled out because they are unable to kick addictions (usually to meth) during their pregnancies. The law under which they are prosecuted was passed to protect kids from meth in the home. The law makes no mention of fetuses.

In most other states, women have challenged their convictions and prevailed — courts are not any more comfortable sending drug-addicted women who should be nursing their babies not shuffling in handcuffs off to prison when treatment would be a much better (and less expensive) option. But in this Alabama county, no woman has even gone to trial. Women are pleading out and getting sentenced to a year in jail — sometimes, having been dragged away in handcuffs the day after giving birth.

What gets me: the women are being prosecuted under the pretenses of…drumroll please…protecting their fetuses, and the women themselves (sound familiar? Of, say, South Dakota circa the summer of 2006?).

Here’s what Gambril has to say:

“When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered,” Mr. Gambril said. “It is what I call a continuing crime.” He added that the purpose of the statute was to guarantee that the child has “a safe environment, a drug-free environment.”

And:

“Our ultimate goal is to protect mothers and children,” Mr. Gambril said.

Right. So a woman is an “environment” and he is “protecting” her and her child by throwing her in jail, sending a kid into the care of a grandparent, friend, or the foster system, and ensuring that a new mother cannot be present for the first months or years of the child’s life. Oh, and making that decision for the mother because she is too…female?…to make it for herself.

The thing is, that these prosecutions are nothing new. There have been hundreds of them over the last 30 years, as NAPW is documenting. What gets me is that the Times so rarely writes about them. I guess it takes white women and meth in place of black women and crack for an injustice to be recognized.

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