Teen Found With Dead Fetus in Bag Faces Speculation and Scrutiny

Tiona Rodriguez, the 17-year-old who was found with a dead fetus in her bag after being accused of shoplifting at a New York City Victoria’s Secret, was released from jail over the weekend after pleading not guilty on charges of petit larceny and criminal possession of property. While the teen has not been charged with a crime regarding the dead fetus, she has still faced death threats and public judgment for her actions.

Security guards first found the dead fetus on Thursday inside a plastic bag that was inside Rodriguez’s canvas bag, where a sales associated also allegedly found a pair of skinny jeans from Victoria’s Secret.

Rodriguez reportedly told authorities that she was six-months pregnant, had had a miscarriage, and didn’t know what to do. An autopsy on Friday found that the fetus was actually eight months along. Despite initial assessments that the fetus was “born alive” and had “asphyxiated,” preliminary autopsy reports were not conclusive, and additional tests will take another few weeks.

Rodriguez was released after the judge turned down the prosecutor’s request for a $1,000 bail. Francis Estevez, Rodriguez’s friend who was also charged in the shoplifting incident, has a prior arrest record but was released with no bail being requested.

Defense lawyer Genay Ann Leitman told the New York Daily News that Rodriguez has received death threats online, and that she was an A student who hoped to attend college.

“Right now, there’s no proof that she facilitated the death of the baby,” Leitman told reporters. “She’s a 17-year-old who just had a child die. It’s pretty traumatic for anybody, kid or adult.”

Rodriguez has faced skepticism and scrutiny from strangers online and off. Police told the Daily News they were skeptical of her account because she already has a child, while shoppers interviewed on the scene expressed shock and disbelief. The Daily News characterized her incorrect account of how far along in her pregnancy she was as a “lie,” and the Daily Beast analyzed her expressionlessness in the courtroom as “an absence of manifest feeling that seemed to reflect a heart that is not so much cold as closed off.”

“There is a lot of unfortunate coverage … not taking into account any of the circumstances that would lead her either to hide the pregnancy, or to panic if she had a stillbirth she wasn’t expecting,” Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told RH Reality Check.

“We don’t know what her access to health care is,” Diaz-Tello said. “Even under medical supervision in a hospital, women often don’t get the support they need after a pregnancy loss.”

Women of color have long had particular difficulties with accessing and affording reproductive health services. Teen pregnancy rates in Rodriguez’s Brooklyn neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, are among the highest in the city, and Black women in New York City have a much higher infant mortality rate than any other ethnic group.

Whether Rodriguez can be charged with a crime depends on the final results of the autopsy, but it may also depend on state laws. A live birth that ended in asphyxiation could result in serious charges. But if Rodriguez is found to have intentionally miscarried, she could still be charged with a class A misdemeanor, since New York is one of few states that holds women criminally responsible for inducing their own abortion. The self-induced abortion ban has only been enforced five times since 1980, but a recent attempt to change the law was a non-starter in the legislature.

Women have been held criminally responsible for bad pregnancy outcomes in several high-profile cases in recent years, including Bei Bei Shuai’s attempted suicide in Indiana, Christine Taylor’s fall down the stairs in Iowa, and Jennie Linn McCormack buying abortion medication online in Idaho. McCormack was vindicated in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a precedent which casts doubt on the constitutionality of New York’s self-induced abortion ban.

Rodriguez will be back in court December 10 to contest the shoplifting charges or enter a plea.

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  • Joe.02

    A local tabloid, the NY Daily News, printed her photo. As an alleged guilty minor (17), this seems to me dubious as a matter of policy.

    • jovan1984

      The NY Post probably did, as well, given how far right they are.

    • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

      Not sure bout the states but here in canada identifying a young offender in anyway, especially before trial is strictly verboten.

      • Joe.02

        Well, it’s legal in the U.S. … it would even be legal if she was a crime victim. The question then becomes if they should do it by choice.

  • Arekushieru

    Ugh, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Then, when women give birth they are punished for how they may respond to a potentially traumatizing mixture of hormones, volatile emotions, mental illness, familial and societal expectations, etc…. Case in point: Andrea Yates.

    This is why antis are so fucking sick.

    • HeilMary1

      Would like to know if she was taking any psychosis-INDUCING “anti-depressant” drugs. Yates might not have drowned her kids if she hadn’t been on such drugs. 99% of school shootings are triggered by “anti-depressant” drug reactions.

      • RethinkThePink

        So if you’re in bad enough shape to require anti-psych meds, and you have postpartum psychosis, and you do something unthinkable, in your mind that’s the fault of the medicine?

        Why don’t we blame chemotherapy for not curing cancer?

        • Arekushieru

          Um, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, here. But it almost sounds like you’re saying that the mental illness was the cause of the drownings, when that isn’t at ALL what *I’m* saying. I am talking about how individual women are punished for the way they (may) respond to certain factors such as mental illness, etc… etc….. Iow, I am talking about how a woman’s decision is punished no matter what pressures were brought to bear on her, as compared to the treatment one may expect for her male counterpart in a similar situation.

          • RethinkThePink

            No, you were implying that anti-psych drugs are the cause of many crimes. Which is really colossally stupid.

          • Arekushieru

            Um, Arekushieru and Heil Mary are two different names, spelled ENTIRELY differently, so I doubt dyslexia is the reason for responding to ME, Arekushieru, as if I were Heil Mary, here. And, if you’re next claim is going to be that you thought we were the same person with different names, I would like to point out that, if you were paying attention, you would have seen that Heil Mary, the person YOU responded to, was responding to ME. Therefore, what I was MORE LIKELY doing, was defending my original position, *as stated above* from an erroneous interpretation made by someone who (m I thought) was an ally and otherwise in agreement with me. Thanks.

  • Horation_Tobias_HumpleDinK

    sounds like she had a mental break down maybe? Certainly grim

  • cj99.willingness99@gmail.com

    Not sure if this has been covered anywhere but the woman accused of this: Was she the victim of an extreme religious background? possibly the fear of blame or some kind of retaliation for being pregnant combined with other factors? I’m also thinking she may have lacked any real sex education when younger.

    If the right wing fanatics have their way (gawd I hope not!) with their heavy handed shame & blame with a police state on individual rights we could see more happenings like this.

  • Goldenblack

    If she did kill a born-alive child, that’s a crime, naturally.

    However, I had a miscarriage while not at home, and I had…no idea what to do with the ‘product of conception’ at all. I mean, none. I was in shock, absolutely, also utterly bewildered – and in massive amounts of pain. I ended up using a public toilet’s disposal facilities.

    I mean, had I thought I needed to keep it for any ‘evidence’ I would have ended up with it in a plastic bag, probably, in another bag, but there’s no real way to work out WTF to do when this happens to you.

    I also did some pretty seriously weird things afterwards (okay, no shoplifting!) to distract myself from how awful the experience was.