Interpreting Mississippi's depraved heart murder statute to apply to the context of pregnancy will lead to absurd and dangerous public health consequences. Such prosecutions deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug and alcohol treatment. And they create a disincentive for pregnant women who do seek medical care from disclosing important informaiton about drug use to health care providers out of fear that the disclosure will lead to possible criminal sanctions.
Prosecuting women and girls for continuing to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties.
Rennie Gibbs became pregnant at age 15, but the baby was stillborn in her 36th week. Via The Guardian:
Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.
Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby. But her case is by no means isolated. Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.
New conservative rule: If you have a drug habit, you must be a murderer. This, despite the fact that there is no evidence linking cocaine use to stillbirths. While it's certainly not a good idea to be using cocaine while pregnant, the fact remains that no scientific research directly links cocaine use to fetal death in late-stage pregnancy. It's far more likely that her poverty, young age, and probable lack of prenatal care had more to do with the stillbirth.