Nationwide Coalition Calls on Department of Justice to Denounce Enhanced Sentence for Pregnant Woman

National Advocates for Pregnant Women, 10/7/14
Contact: Lynn Paltrow, NAPW, (212) 255-9252
Cherisse Scott, SisterReach, (901) 310-5488
Today, a coalition of 48 reproductive justice, drug policy reform, women’s rights, and civil liberties organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy. The letter was co-signed by organizations in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
In the case at issue, Lacey Weld pled guilty to the crime of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. According to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney William C. Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee, she was given an enhanced sentence-an additional six years in federal prison-because she was pregnant at the time she committed the crime.
The coalition demonstrates in its strongly worded letter that an enhanced sentence based on pregnancy is contrary to the Obama Administration’s commitment to rational and just sentencing policies, women’s reproductive and civil rights, and the health and well-being of children and families. The letter also makes clear that this position is contrary to the Obama Administration’s stated support for science and evidence-based research as the basis for public policy.
“The action supported by the federal prosecutor in Tennessee is based on the profoundly discriminatory principle that pregnant women may be subject to separate, unequal, and harsher penalties than others,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “Becoming pregnant and either continuing or terminating a pregnancy is a fundamental right for which no person should be subject to punishment directly or through enhanced penalties.”
Cherisse Scott, Founder and CEO of the Tennessee-based organization SisterReach, said, “Opening the door to enhanced penalties for pregnant women will unquestionably make women of color – a group already subject to extraordinary disproportionality in criminal punishment and sentencing – even more vulnerable to state and federal control and punishment. U.S. Attorney Killian’s statement reinforced medical misinformation that is fueling the arrests of pregnant women and new mothers under Tennessee’s new fetal assault law and destroying families in the process.”
Reproductive justice, a vision and framework developed by women of color, demands more than respect for individual privacy and protection of the right to choose abortion. Reproductive justice also recognizes that government is obligated to create the social and economic conditions that allow all people to live with dignity, ensuring respect for these interconnected human rights: 1) the right to have children; 2) the right not have children; and 3) the right to parent the children we have.