Some Pregnant Women Should Be Thrown in Prison

Jeanne Sager

jailWhen you hear that a woman was sent to jail for getting pregnant, what's the first thing you think? That it must have happened in Afghanistan? Iraq?

So what if you were told it happened in Pennsylvania? And that it's not such a bad idea to give judges this kind of leeway here in the states?

Whoa! Retract the claws there mama. It's not a one-size-fits-all punishment. It probably wasn't even appropriate for Amy Lynn Gillespie, a Pennsylvania woman jailed for violating a judge's order that she not get pregnant while on work release from prison.

Gillespie had a string of charges following her, including shoplifting and prostitution, that landed her in the clink. Not pretty, but not especially violent. I've heard of moms coming back from worse, inspired by their child to turn it all around. She was allowed out on work release, with the stipulation that her womb remain fetus-free.

Now a host of (largely feminist) bloggers are outraged on her behalf. Says Curvature, "But let us back up just a minute -- she was jailed because she was pregnant?" (emphasis theirs).

Gillespie died in prison. It's clear her case was a miscarriage of justice. But the fact that one woman was poorly treated does not negate the rights of a judge to use this sentencing technique.

Yet, anytime someone talks about putting restrictions on a female criminal's uterus, the pro-choice crowd (of which I'm normally a member) starts shouting, "It's our body, our choice!"

That may be true in cases like those of military servicewomen who were being threatened with jail time last year if they dared get pregnant rather than serve overseas. Those women had committed no crimes and were essentially being told that a birth control slip-up was a punishable offense.

Unfortunately, part of being a criminal means giving up your choices. And certain crimes make clear how fit -- or unfit -- a woman is for motherhood. What happens when a woman who is unfit to be a mother becomes pregnant? The baby is put at risk.

The list of crimes that fits this bill is fairly short. If a woman has been convicted of severe child abuse, she doesn't deserve to get a second crack at parenthood. If a woman has killed her child, repeat after me, she doesn't deserve to get another to kill.

But it's a short enough list that granting judges the right to rule on a woman's womb won't carry with it rampant abuse by chauvinistic judges. It can be pretty cut and dried.

It's not uncommon for judges in animal cruelty cases to ban the perpetrators of unspeakably heinous acts from ever again owning a pet. The rulings are made to protect future victims. If we can do it for dogs and cats with no problem, I find it hard to believe anyone would be against doing it for a human being on a case by case basis. The threat of jail time could save a baby's life.

Should judges be able to take women's fertility away?


Image via JOPHIELsmiles/Flickr

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