Jamie Lynn Russell: One Pregnant Woman’s Tragic Death Reveals the Human Cost of Devaluing Women

Read additional 2013 coverage of the personhood of women here.

I don’t like war metaphor. I prefer to think about reproductive justice advocacy in terms of healing and love. But when our nonsensical policies on drugs and reproductive health claim the lives of living, breathing people, it feels like a war.

Jamie Lynn Russell was 33 years old when she went to an emergency room in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma in such debilitating pain that she was unable to move. Because her excruciating pain prevented her from lying down for an examination, hospital staff labeled her “noncompliant,” and called the police. The police discovered that she had two pain pills that weren’t hers. Still in pain, she was released by the hospital as “fit to incarcerate,” arrested for drug possession, and taken to jail, where she died two hours later from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.

Two pain pills.

Much of the initial response to the case centered around the actions of the hospital, which likely amount to malpractice. But we must avoid making the mistake that the hospital did: looking at individual actions when they are merely symptoms of deeper, deadlier problems.

Jamie’s needless death shows us where our priorities lie, misplaced: chasing down minor drug offenders in service of a failed war on drugs is more important that human life and dignity; women’s health is not taken seriously and “noncompliance” is cause for punishment. The tragedy of her death once again disproves the myth that women never need abortions and that “modern technology and science” have eliminated maternal mortality.

I hope that her family—and people across Oklahoma and the United States—will demand justice for Jamie so that she is not just another unnamed casualty of the many political and rhetorical wars waged on pregnant women.

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  • rachael-vinyard

    The day the story broke, local news reports said Jamie had two pills on her. The day after, however, it became two bottles. And the officer arrested her based on a familiy member’s comment that “she probably stole them.” Extremely fishy! 

  • justmywords

    To me, it doesn’t matter whether she had 2 pills, 2 bottles, or was packing 2 tons of weed under the front seat of the car. She should never have been released from the hospital.

  • elburto

    The failed, counterproductive “War on Drugs” destroys lives. A woman in agony has painkillers? OMG! Shock horror! Jail her, STAT!

    Time to admit that this “war”, just like the “War on Terror”, has failed. Time to see that it’s ruined more lives than it’s saved, actually helped to create addicts, and all but obliterated poor families, especially where POC are concerned.