Los Angeles Times Editorial Pushes Dangerous Stereotypes About Pregnant People That Use Drugs

| Reproaction

By: Nataley Neuman

Chelsea Becker, a 25-year-old woman from California, is currently sitting in jail with $5-million bail for giving birth to a stillborn son. She was charged with murder under the state’s penal code, which “defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being – or fetus.” [1] The Los Angeles Times editorial board weighed in on Becker’s arrest to explain how laws involving fetal personhood should be used for their “intended purpose,” rather than throwing women in jail for their pregnancy outcomes. However, while the editorial seems well-intended, it actually peddles harmful stereotypes and myths about drug use, drug users, pregnancy outcomes, and pregnant people.

The editorial states that punitive laws are intended for the punishment of assailants alleged to cause injury detrimental to a pregnancy, and cites a case of domestic violence as an example. It goes on to claim that punishing women for their pregnancy outcomes was not the intention of the law, calling the practice “rare”; however, we know this is not the case. Laws that include fetal personhood language have been used to prosecute pregnant people for pregnancy outcomes, like in the case of a woman in Alabama who was shot in the stomach and subsequently indicted for manslaughter after losing her pregnancy. [2]

This editorial begins by calling Becker a “disastrous mother” because of her alleged drug use during pregnancy, though “research fails to support the assumption that a parent who uses … drug[s] will harm [their] children” [5] Later on, the editorial claims that the “irresponsible treatment of her own body” provides evidence to charge Becker with murder, and goes on to state that Becker “recklessly abuse[d] her own body.” [1] This language is very troubling, as it reinforces dangerous ideas about drug use that further demean and shame people who use drugs. In addition, the editorial falsely states that babies can be born addicted to drugs, which is a myth that has been thoroughly discredited. [3]

This kind of language and attitude toward people who use drugs peddles dangerous stereotypes about drug use and contributes to the stigma that drug users face. This is especially true for pregnant people who use drugs: Because of stigma around drug use and pregnancy, people in states like Wisconsin are afraid to seek healthcare for fear of being prosecuted. [4] Although the point of this article was to make an argument for using fetal personhood laws for their intended purpose, the point is muddled due to the editorial’s disrespect for people who use drugs. Instead of making valid points about the consequences of fetal personhood laws, this piece weaponizes Becker’s past drug use and uses it as justification to judge and shame her.

No one has the right to pass judgement on who can or should parent, whether they have a history of drug use or not. While the Los Angeles Times editorial board tried to make valid points about the consequences of fetal personhood laws, they could have done so without shaming and demeaning Becker and her ability to parent in the process. Laws that involve “fetal personhood” have real consequences for pregnant and parenting people, and articles like this reinforce harmful stereotypes around pregnant people who use drugs.

For more information about Chelsea Becker’s case, please read the March 26, 2020 statement from National Advocates for Pregnant Women here.

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