By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff
Women’s Law Project joined New Voices Philadelphia: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, and a coalition of 48 reproductive justice, drug policy reform, women’s rights and civil liberties organizations across the country in sending 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.
From a statement released by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women:
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.
Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, calls the action “profoundly discriminatory.”
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.”
From the letter sent to Attorney General Holder:
Targeting women who become pregnant for unique crimes and special penalties defies principles of equal protection as well as this Administration’s clear commitment to equal justice for women and families, as demonstrated by numerous efforts including its establishment of the Council on Women and Girls, its support for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and its emphasis on pay equity.
The imposition of criminal sanctions for using methamphetamine – a non-existent crime –violates clear due process principles and prohibitions on ex post facto laws. It also directly conflicts with Administration positions on drug policy. As the Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy recently explained: “Under the Obama administration, we’ve really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction. . . . We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease.”