To the Editor:
Re "Woman Is Convicted of Killing Her Fetus by Smoking Cocaine" (news article, May 18):
There are numerous causes of fetal demise. Many are related to what pregnant prosecution of Regina McKnight was an outrage, and her conviction (after 15 minutes of deliberation) a travesty. Beyond having a devastating impact on her and her children (one as yet unborn), this case seriously undermines the legitimate societal goal of insuring the best maternal and child health. The threat of prosecution for murder based on medical or behavioral factors of pregnant women will cause those who need prenatal care the most to avoid it.
ROBERT G. NEWMAN, M.D.
New York, May 18, 2001
The writer is director, Edmond de Rothschild Foundation Chemical Dependency
Institute, Beth Israel Medical Center.
To whom it may concern:
I just read about a drug addict being handed a twelve-year sentence for using her drug of choice, and I am outraged. TOPHEADLINES@legalminds.org, (17 May 2001).
I am willing to forward an e-mail to fifty friends, asking for a contribution towards McKnight's appeal. Do you know if that gesture would be helpful or welcome?
I do not know McKnight's race, so I don't know whether her conviction is solely a gender issue or an issue of both gender and race.
Are you taking donations for McKnight? Do you know any other organizations that are supporting McKnight's cause?
Thank you for your time.
Sincerely, Lydia King
I am writing regarding the recent conviction of Ms. McKnight because she tested positive for drugs when she miscarried. Fetal alcohol syndrome is much more dangerous and we treat that as a health problem.
If people care so much about children, maybe they could use the resources spent on the incarceration of Ms. McKnight, which could cost more than $384,000, on finding the children reported missing in your state every year. If they care so much about the unborn fetus why not provide prenatal care for mothers that would gladly accept it if they were not afraid to be arrested and thrown in jail?
And why is prison the answer for Ms. McKnight, if this is about her use of drugs. Drug treatment is only available to 12% of incarcerated populations and education and social workers have been dramatically reduced. Physical and sexual abuse is rampant. Do you think the issues that brought her to use drugs in the first place will be alleviated in prison? How many of you, if you have not used a drug yourself, have a friend or family member that has used drugs? Is this what you think the answer for them should be? If you can't bring yourself to give a damn about Ms. McKnight think about that $384,000 coming out of your pocket.
I must say that I am appalled at the decision to even prosecute Regina McKnight. This decision will only make women afraid to seek pre-natal care and medical advice for fear that they will be jailed if something should go wrong with their pregnancy.
The money spent on this prosecution and now incarceration of this woman, would be better spent on education and pre-natal care for impoverished or addicted women. Are we now going to prosecute women who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol during pregnancy? The prospect of police officers in the doctors office monitoring expectant mothers is a frightening one.
Compassion and education should guide our public policy not revenge and punishment on these unfortunate women.
May 21, 2001
To the Editor:
As a clinician and scientist, I was appalled to read that a mother was sentenced to imprisonment following the birth of a stillborn child because the death of that child was ascribed to her cocaine use. It is medically impossible in an individual case of stillbirth to pinpoint a single cause. The tragedy of this stillbirth is compounded by depriving the other children in this family of their mother. From a public health point of view, the prospect of a stillbirth being followed by prosecution is horrifying and may further endanger womenís lives and the lives of potentially salvageable infants in utero by discouraging mothers from immediately seeking hospital care when they cannot feel fetal movements.
Deborah A. Frank, M.D.
To the editor:
I'm writing to complement you for the excellent column by Bob Herbert in today's New York Times ("Stillborn Justice," May 24, 2001). Herbert did a very good job of outlining many of the reasons that prosecuting women for child abuse if they use drugs, drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes during their pregnancies is not just inhumane but also ineffective public health policy.
One additional point that I would like to raise is that such prosecutions will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care which is one of the most important factors in achieving a safe pregnancy and the birth of a healthy child. Low-income women and women of color who have been who have been the targets of South Carolina's selective prosecution already face many barriers to health care. Rather than throwing another obstacle in their path, state resources would be better spent on programs to expand access to health care services for children and parents and make effective addiction treatment programs available to parents.
I am writing to express my outrage at the conviction and sentencing of Ms. Regina McKnight. In the rush to punish Regina McKnight it must have missed the cruel irony involved in their decision. While South Carolina is willing to spend over $300,000 to imprison Ms. McKnight for twelve years, it cannot seen to find the money for appropriate drug treatment programs for pregnant women, or anyone else for that matter.
This conviction is an outrage for Regina McKnight who suffered a stillbirth. And it is a frightening message to all women about our vulnerability to discriminatory and politically driven assaults.
Marlene Gerber Fried
To the Editor:
I want to commend Bob Herbert for his clear, compassionate and brave piece, "Stillborn Justice." In the rush to punish Regina McKnight -- the jury "deliberated 15 minutes" -- it must have missed the cruel irony involved in their decision. While South Carolina is willing to spend over $300,000 to imprison Ms. McKnight for twelve years, it cannot seen to find the money for appropriate drug treatment programs for pregnant women, or anyone else for that matter.
This conviction is an outrage for Regina McKnight who suffered a stillbirth. And it is a frightening message to all women about our vulnerability to discriminatory and politically driven assaults. It is not just those who live in South Carolina who are at risk.
Marlene Gerber Fried
Dear NYT Editors,
Mr. Herbert's column on the McKnight case should be a wake up call for all Americans. Readers may ask why Ms. McKnight had so many children? In our work with pregnant drug users we found that even after losing several children to Child Protection Service Agencies, women continue to cling to the hope that each pregnancy will be the one that gives them a respectable place in society and a better life. Policymakers cling to foster care systems instead of family preservation, punitive policies rather than rehabilitative programs. Women will try to rehabilitate themselves in the only way available to them: choosing to try again and again to be a good woman, a good mother. We can help them to thrive or we can imprison the mothers and leave their children to be raised by strangers paid for by the government. Which policy truly values human life?
Author Pregnant Women on Drugs: Combating Stereotypes and Stigma New Jersey Rutgers University Press, 1999.
Sheigla Murphy, Ph.D
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert's column ("Stillborn Justice" 5/24/01) highlights a frightening policy trend that began with concerns about drug-exposed babies in the 1980s. Since then, researchers realized that most of the problems ascribed to drugs are more correctly attributed to lack of prenatal care, malnutrition and the life stresses of poverty.
If South Carolinian prosecutors really cared about children, they would do everything they could to provide treatment and health services for pregnant women. Both common sense and science show that if given a helping hand, pregnant women will be healthier and newborns will be far better off than they would be isolated in an overburdened foster care system, with their mothers behind bars.
Bob Herbert should be applauded for his column, "Stillborn Justice." Apparently South Carolina just doesn't get it. Remember the U.S. Supreme Court's Ferguson decision just this spring? It struck down a South Carolina pregnancy-testing policy for cocaine use--and criminal prosecution of women who tested positive--as a violation of the Constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure. It sent a message that pregnant women are American citizens, not a special class of breeders subject to the whims of South Carolina prosecutors and doctors looking for "easy" answers to the tragedy of addiction. Apparently that message was not loud enough or clear enough for those in South Carolina to hear. Perhaps Bob Herbert's column can provide some "hearing aid." If pregnant women are full citizens, then we better be prepared to prosecute all of those who contributed to the death of McKnight's fetus, including the man who impregnated her and the public officials in South Carolina who refuse to provide adequate treatment centers for pregnancy and addiction.
New York Times
Re: Stillborn Justice
As a life long resident of South Carolina I applaud Bob Herbert for his article on the Regina McKnight case. If during her third trimester Ms. McKnight had told her doctor that she was addicted to cocaine, her doctor would have been required under state law to turn her in to the police or risk criminal prosecution himself. All that comes from a state supreme court case that declares a viable fetus to be a ěperson.î If my state were truly interest in healthy children being born, they would not have a policy that discourages addicted, pregnant women from seeking competent medical help or counseling.
C. Rauch Wise
I am an attorney in Tulsa, OK and represented a low income woman when the state took custody of her fetus. She did not use drugs during her pregnancy, but was arrested when she was present in an alleged "meth lab". The state promptly took custody of her fetus and determined her fetus was a "deprived child" because she was exposed to fumes from the manufacturing of methamphetamine on one day during her pregnancy. While she was in jail due to the court's taking custody of her fetus and seven months pregnant, my client lost 16 pounds and was rushed to the local emergency room in premature labor from dehydration. She had no problems with her pregnancy prior to incarceration. On appeal, the lower court ruling was unanimously overturned. In response, Oklahoma has now passed legislation which includes a fetus in the state's definition of a "deprived child". These latest developments are alarming. Drug using pregnant women will avoid prenatal care and drug treatment for fear of state action. Also, my specific case is an example of the slippery slope the state is on. Cigarette smoking and environmental fumes will surely be regulated next. Thank you for yor article explaining the perils of this type of legislation to pregnant women and their unborn children.
Barbara A. Teichner, Esq.
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