Texas’ penal code explicitly exempts pregnant individuals from being punished for harming their own fetuses. But that hasn’t stopped prosecutors from charging them with child endangerment for using drugs while pregnant.
The prosecution of Jennifer Whalen for purchasing her daughter abortion-inducing medication is reminiscent of the way that hospitals, Child Protective Services, and law enforcement have historically responded to drug use during pregnancy.
The definition of criminal offenses, the selective implementation of the law, and the resulting stereotypes generate a self-enforcing loop of discrimination and exclusion to the detriment of all. The exclusion of so many legitimate voices from this year’s AIDS conference is just one example.
For the past 10 years I’ve been open about my HIV status and my drug use history. I can’t lie about these things anymore. I just don’t do that. Now, it’s quite possible that my honesty will cost me a US visa.
To be at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC would mean a lot to me. I would’ve wanted to share our issues with the delegates and I’m sorry that the US immigration policy restricts entry into the country for people like me.
I dreamed of coming to Washington to speak at AIDS 2012 to deliver a message to those with the financial and political means to turn the tide of the epidemic: For millions of us, repressive drug policies and stigma stand in the way of treatment and prevention. But I am barred from participating.
Drug users and sex workers represent the majority of people living with HIV in many countries, and are among the most at-risk of infection everywhere. The irony of allowing people living with HIV to the conference while refusing those likeliest to be—or become—infected has not been lost on everyone.
The prosecution of drug use in pregnant women does nothing to fulfill a legitimate policy goal and in fact seems to be racially motivated—at least in the implementation—rather than spurred by a concern for children.
Abortion is morally defensible because women are the best arbiters of whether or not they are ready to bear a child, not because it is a way for society to prevent the births of babies perceived as undesirable.
In the past four years, more than 20 women in Alabama have been prosecuted for no other reason than that they tried to continue their pregnancies while struggling with addiction.