This Mississippi Law Could Send You to Jail For Suffering a Miscarriage

The debate on abortion is nothing new to the legal system of the United States. Federal and state laws have changed numerous times to reflect the ever-dynamic camps of pro-choice and pro-life activists, many of whom are known to sling words like "murder" and "masochism" around the issue with increasing ferocity. Laws on abortion still vary from state to state, and across individual circumstances, but a new ruling in Mississippi may change the face of the "pro-choice/pro-life" debate forever.

Mississippi has long been hailed the anti-abortion capitol, with one abortion clinic left in the state, and many pro-life activists looking to change that. This past April, however, a Lamar County jury indicted Nina Buckhalter for the willful murder of her stillborn child, named Hayley Jade, by culpable negligence. The district attorney claimed that the traces of methamphetamine in Buckhalter's system were responsible for the death of Hayley Jade, and the Mississippi court seeks justice. The court has yet to move forward on the case, but many fear prosecution of Buckhalter could set the precedent for many stillborn and miscarriage births that lead to prosecutions in Mississippi and other states.

Likely unbeknown to many of the abortion activists in Mississippi, this case could lead to more abortions, not less, as many pregnant women who fear the prosecution that may come with an unsuccessful childbirth may look to abortions to quell their fears. The prosecution cites two of Mississippi's laws to defend this case, one being that Mississippi defines the act of manslaughter as the "killing of another human being, by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another," the term "another" referring to "an unborn child at every state of gestation from conception until live birth." Mississippi state laws were never meant to include miscarriages or stillbirths, however, as was made clear by the four failed attempts by the Mississippi lawmakers rejection of laws that would set specific penalties for damaging a fetus by using drugs or other harmful substances.

Many pro-choice groups worry that this case will have the unwanted effect of establishing fetuses as "people" in the state of Mississippi, furthering the efforts of the pro-life groups in declaring abortion as murder. The opposition declares that this kind of legislation is ridiculous, as the definition of what is harmful or lethal to an unborn child remains so unclear. Many pre-natal caregivers suggest avoiding cheese or preservatives while pregnant, and most agree that ingesting alcohol or drugs during pregnancy can have adverse affects on the unborn child. However, no clear established evidence can point to intentional murder of an unborn baby via ingestion, and this case reflects a ridiculous notion that it could – and that the women who are harming their babies should be given jail time, instead of the help they need.

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Leah Feldman

Undergraduate student at Colgate University, pursuing a major in English Literature and a minor in Environmental Studies. Focus on maritime literature, history and policy. From New York City.

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