Saturday, June 13, 2009

In Prison for Being Pregnant

Since my last post, I've finished Jessica Valenti's Purity Myth, and it was excellent. I've been making connections left and right to lots of stuff going on in the world, and how it relates the issues raised in Valenti's book. I highly recommend it.

One of the current events that has really got me thinking is the case of Quinta Layin Tuleh, a pregnant, HIV-positive woman from the African nation of Cameroon. After being charged with having fake immigration documents, Judge John Woodcock from Maine gave her a longer-than-recommended sentence, purely because she is pregnant and HIV-positive. He cited that this would "protect the public from further crimes of the defendant,” or in other words, keep her from passing HIV on to her unborn child through the regular administration of anti-retroviral drugs.

It's a complex case - Tuleh didn't know she was pregnant or HIV-positive going into this, the administration of anti-retroviral drugs is something I know very little about, and that this sets a potentially dangerous precedent that it's ok to send someone to jail for being sick and pregnant. In a nutshell. There's a lot more to read on the case: this post at, this report from, and this article from the Bangor Daily News, among many others.

In The Purity Myth, Valenti explores certain laws and practices that are in place because of the notion that women don't know what's best for them. The best example I can think of might be certain states requiring women to get sonograms before undergoing an abortion - doctors think women don't know there's a fetus inside them? It's based on this idea that women are frivolous and careless (hysterical!) and that they need the paternal guidance of lawmakers in order to know them what's best for them. To have a white, American judge, making decisions for this pregnant, sick, African women is exactly what Valenti is talking about.

Apparently, Tuleh had arrangements made to get anti-retroviral drugs (to try to ensure that HIV isn't passed down to her unborn child), but that wasn't enough to convince this judge she could handle the situation without his help. Also, it seems ridiculous that a judge can't just mandate a woman to get on Medicaid, or assign a nurse to make sure she takes the pills every day - how could being in JAIL really be the best option for this woman?

I'll leave you with a quote from Jess McCabe over at thefword,
Obviously, this doesn’t reflect well on the immigration system in the US, and there’s clearly a major problem if healthcare in prison is better than that available for people who are only criminals by virtue of having the audacity to try and move freely in a world that values people differently depending on where they’re born.

Related Reading: Doctor's deny tubal ligation because woman is "too young."

1 comment:

Kaitlin said...

Great and informative post, Sammy.

You know, it's so funny - everyone in charge likes to blame the individuals without ever questioning the insitutions. This was brought up in the article and I don't think it can be stressed enough.

Consequently, putting her in jail to "protect her baby" shouldn't even be necessary if there were a health care system that worked to help those who needed it most: poor, single women.. and especially those infected with HIV.

The whole situation just seems absurd to me and it scares me that this sort of power-wielding by judges is allowed. "I don't think that the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law." Well, I don't think it's okay for judges to speak like that. think? technically?