Using old laws to punish mothers

I came across an amusing column about an antiquated, yet still active, law which is causing a bit of a stir in Mississippi.

A certain 20-year-old Miss Rennie Gibbs from Mississippi is being charged with “depraved heart murder”. The law, which was enacted in the 19th Century, means “unintentionally killing through negligence or indifference.” Under these laws Gibbs is held accountable for the stillborn delivery of her baby.

What makes it even more interesting is that the incident happened when Gibbs was 15 and the court alleges that she had been taking drugs which led to stillbirth. Quite why the case is making headlines now is bizarre; not even the dramatic antics of the CSI investigative team would be able to prove the case.

The law is so severe that it carries a life sentence if proven guilty. So, however strange it may seem now, it is clear that America’s forefathers were very serious about this legal challenge. The column makes for interesting reading as there are also references to legal parameters still in place in Alabama which govern the distribution of "any device designed primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs". Apparently you need a doctor’s prescription to buy a dildo.

And there’s also a law which has apparently been used to charge many a working girl, known as a “Crime against Nature”; you and I know it more readily as oral sex.

Whose life is it anyway?

Forget the silliness; the first law does raise an interesting dilemma. The pro-abortion lobby has long fought for a woman’s right to make her own choice. This law however determines the identity of the foetus as a completely independent human being or entity, which has its own right to a decent development and birth.

The other thing that made me think about this issue was watching The Crucible this weekend. It’s an interesting film about the witch-hunt saga in Salem back in the day. One of the accused is condemned to be hung for witchcraft, however, when it is determined that she is pregnant, her fate is postponed until the birth of the child, because “the child is innocent of the crime committed by the mother.”

So whose life is it anyway? Despite the outdated nature of the laws above, one could argue that those old men who brought these laws into existence might have considered the life of an unborn foetus in much the same way as anti-abortionists do today.

What about miscarriages? Presumably one would have to apply the old law to a case of miscarriage as well. Certainly with today’s medical advancement, it would be a lot easier to prove that a miscarriage or still birth was intentional or otherwise than it was back then.

So why are these laws still on the books? When it comes to oral sex being a crime against nature, are the little tadpoles alive, with souls and stuff so that their digestion or ejection anywhere else but where it was intended could indeed be considered “a crime against nature.”? It gets crazier the more you delve into it. Because if you’ve argued your point along those lines, even masturbating could be considered a “crime against nature.”

Do you think people should still be prosecuted by antiquated laws?

Read more by Marlon Abrahams

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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