Laura Pemberton was in labor and ready to give birth at her home in Florida when a sheriff arrived at her door, took her into custody, strapped her legs together, and forced her to go to Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center, where doctors had instigated urgent court proceedings.
They claimed that Pemberton was risking the life of her unborn child by attempting to have a vaginal birth after having had a previous cesarean surgery. The judge ordered the woman to undergo the operation, which she did against her will later that day in 1996.
Regina McKnight, 21 years old and pregnant, suffered a stillbirth that led to her arrest and conviction on homicide charges in South Carolina in 2001. Although the stillbirth later proved to be the result of an infection, prosecutors argued that McKnight caused the stillbirth because she used cocaine. A jury found her guilty after 15 minutes of deliberation and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Pregnant with her second child in 2005, 20-year-old Rachael Lowe went with her husband to a hospital to get help for her addiction to Oxycontin. An emergency room doctor reported her to Wisconsin state officials and Lowe wound up confined against her will in a psychiatric ward, where she received no prenatal care.
She remained incarcerated for more than 25 days before a doctor testified that Lowe's addiction posed no significant risk to the health of the fetus and a judge ordered her release.
These actions against pregnant women (among more than 400 documented
by Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law
in April 2013) sprang to mind when I read "The new science of blaming moms
," a eye-opening commentary by Jonathan Metzl, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Center for Medicine, Health and Society.