• 2 women jailed, charged with murder after having stillbirths at Adventist Health Hanford hospital in California, U.S.
  • The charges of both women were later overturned.
  • Advocates are warning that increased criminalization of broader pregnancy losses will be the result of overturning Roe v. Wade.

27 June 2022 | In early 2018, Adora Perez was arrested and jailed for the death of her stillborn baby at Adventist Health Hanford hospital in California, U.S. She spent four years in prison before her 11-year prison sentence was overturned earlier this year, reported Newsweek.

In 2019, Chelsea Becker also was charged with murder after giving birth to a stillborn baby at the same Adventist hospital. Becker spent 16 months in jail before a judge dismissed her charges in June 2021, reported The Guardian.

Both Becker and Perez had struggled with addiction and Adventist Health Hanford had reported methamphetamine in their systems. They were investigated by local law enforcement and charged with murder by District Attorney Keith Fagundes.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many had warned that outlawing abortion could lead to the criminalization of broader pregnancy losses, such as stillbirths and miscarriages, even in cases of wanted pregnancies.

But even with Roe in effect, women were repeatedly facing arrest and being charged for their pregnancy outcomes. The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) identified more than 1,700 cases between 1973 and 2020 in which pregnant people faced arrest, prosecution, or other criminal or civil consequences based on some action or behavior that law enforcement claimed caused harm to the fetus.

The Guardian reported that substance use is one of the most common allegations, with mothers facing charges even when there’s no evidence of harm to the fetus and in some instances, even after they have given birth to a healthy baby.

Brian Johnson, an Adventist Health spokesperson, declined to comment on Becker’s case, but said it was hospital policy to notify the coroner’s office in a stillbirth after 20 weeks, and that it follows reporting requirements of child protective services, reported The Guardian.

The Hanford police department did not respond to The Guardian‘s inquiries.

Fagundes, the prosecutor, told The Guardian he could not cite research to support his claims that prosecution was the right approach to addiction, but noted that the women did not use drugs behind bars. He added he could in the future refile cases against Becker and Perez, but had no immediate plans to do so.

If charges and prosecutions such as those against Becker and Perez are repeated, pregnant individuals may avoid medical care out of fear of prosecution, according to Newsweek.

Becker told The Guardian that women who are addicted and pregnant are afraid to seek help, whether in the form of drug treatment or prenatal care.

“Women wonder, ‘How can I fix this on my own without anyone else finding out, and in time before the baby comes?’” Becker said. “And many times, as we have seen, it’s much too difficult a battle to fight alone, and many women are unable to kick their addiction by themselves without professional help.”

Becker also recently advocated for state legislation meant to explicitly block these kinds of prosecutions, according to the NAPW.

“I was punished for something that could have happened to anybody,” Becker said in a statement. “I hope that in the future, no woman will ever be prosecuted for losing a pregnancy.”

(Photo: Pip the Penguin, the Adventist Health mascot, stands with a friend outside of the Adventist Health Valley Children’s Medical Center in Hanford, California, U.S. Two women who gave birth to stillbirth infants with meth in their systems at Adventist Health Hanford were charged with murder and jailed, but later had their charges overturned. Advocates warn there will be more cases criminalizing pregnancy losses with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Photo via Adventist Health Hanford Facebook page.)

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