Court to decide homicide charges in stillborn baby case

Mississippi to decide if pregnant women taking drugs can be prosecuted if their baby dies. Photo via Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.org
Mississippi to decide if pregnant women taking drugs can be prosecuted if their baby dies. Photo via Ben Earwicker
Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.org

A 29-year-old woman in Lamar County, Mississippi, who gave birth to a stillborn baby at 31 weeks gestation, after alleged substance abuse in 2009, is at the forefront of a legal battle on Friday which could lead to a final determination on the legality of homicide against pregnant women who cause death in utero because of drug use.

County prosecutors brought a case against Nina Buckhalter after an autopsy report revealed that her baby, Hayley Jade, died from methamphetamine exposure shortly before she was born. At 31-weeks, the baby was well beyond the point of viability. Prosecutors were able to find a loophole in their laws which allowed them to charge Buckhalter with homicide by negligence. The law included unborn babies.

According to Mother Jones on Friday, these types of laws are actually intended to protect women from domestic abuse which could endanger the life of their unborn baby, but the law in question is now being used to prosecute a mother who unintentionally harmed her unborn child, according to her defense attorneys.

Buckhalter’s attorney’s also argue that if Buckhalter is found guilty, this will set a precedence to prosecute any mother for having a miscarriage. Buckhalter’s attorney’s believe the charges are more about finding a backdoor way of prosecuting abortions in a staunchly conservative and pro life state.

A court filing argued on Buckhalter’s behalf, claiming that successful prosecution in this case would lead to more abortions because women abusing drugs or alcohol would abort rather than seeking out treatment and prenatal care.

Since the time that Buckhalter lost her baby, she has gone on to successfully complete substance abuse treatment and has since given birth to a healthy baby.

A ruling on the case is expected sometime in June.