Pubdate: Winter 2000
Source: Point (SC)
Address: P.O. Box 8325 Columbia, SC 29202
Contact:  (803) 808-3781
Author: Wyndi Marie Anderson, S.C. Advocates for Pregnant Women, Charleston


In your last issue you ran an excellent story about the policy in South
Carolina of using the criminal justice system to punish women who are
pregnant and using drugs ["Body Politics," Fall 1999]. The story ends
pointing to the possibility that the case will be used to undermine the
right to choose to have an abortion and to punish women for a range of
behaviors beyond drug use. Unfortunately, we now know those things are
actually happening in South Carolina -- and that women are being deterred
from health care as a result.

For example, since Whitner (the decision finding that viable fetuses are
persons and anything a pregnant woman does to jeopardize her pregnancy can
be punished as child abuse):

A pregnant woman in South Carolina has been arrested because she was
pregnant and used alcohol.

When a thirteen-year-old girl experienced a stillbirth her parents were
arrested. One charge was for unlawful conduct to a child -- because they had
allegedly "failed to get proper care for the fetus."

A woman who suffered a miscarriage was arrested and charged with homicide by
child abuse. The prosecutor who admitted there was no evidence of drug use
nevertheless insisted that the miscarriage was a "crime" that the woman had
to take responsibility for.

Since South Carolina has declared that unborn children may be "protected"
through the state's criminal laws, some programs have reported a dramatic
drop in the number of women seeking drug treatment. In addition, the infant
mortality in the state has increased for the first time in a decade, and the
state has also seen a 20 percent increase in abandoned babies, suggesting
that women fearful of criminal punishment are leaving their babies rather
than risk arrest. While we can't be sure the punitive law caused either of
these increases, it does raise serious questions about its effect on
children and women's health.

Moreover, as the article suggested, the decision is being used in the effort
to outlaw abortion. Having won recognition of fetal rights and personhood,
the Attorney General made clear that he would use the decision as a basis
for limiting abortion. In a written opinion addressing the legality of the
so called "partial-birth abortion procedure," he argued that Whitner stood
for the broad proposition that "a viable unborn fetus is a 'person' under
South Carolina civil and criminal law." Specifically, he took the position
that "Whitner must now be construed as part of South Carolina's abortion
statutes." He concluded that Whitner, along with the other precedent cited
in that case, made a particular form of abortion -- so called partial birth
abortion -- murder. The Attorney General publicly announced that he "would
prosecute any doctor who performs a 'partial birth' abortion on charges of
homicide by child abuse."

The AG went even further. Following a natural progression, his office argued
that all post-viability abortions, regardless of the method or reason, could
be prosecuted as murder, and that those involved in the procedure could
receive the death penalty. Thus, at nearly the same time that Dr. Barnett
Slepian was murdered in cold blood by an anti-abortion activist, the S.C.
Attorney General's Office was asserting that it had a legal basis for
accomplishing the same result.

As a result of this law in South Carolina, women who want to have children
are being deterred from prenatal care and drug treatment, and women who want
to have a safe, legal abortion are in danger of losing that right. This
policy is having a detrimental affect on all of us, and it is time to stand
together and oppose South Carolina's unique and destructive law.

Sincerely, Wyndi Marie Anderson, S.C. Advocates for Pregnant Women,
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