Friday, March 21, 2014

Weekend Reading on Reproductive Justice, Stand-Your-Ground And Inheritance as Women's Issues

What you might want to read over the weekend:

A good summary of what can happen with the fetal human rights movement.  This is the story of Rennie Gibbs, but the article covers several aspects of the treatment of women as incubators:

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison.
Seven years and much legal wrangling later, Gibbs could finally go on trial this spring — part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases across the country in recent years that pit the rights of the mother against what lawmakers, health care workers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and others view as the rights of the unborn child.
A judge is said to be likely to decide this week if the case should move forward or be dismissed. Assuming it continues, whether Gibbs becomes the first woman ever convicted by a Mississippi jury for the loss of her pregnancy could turn on a fundamental question that has received surprisingly little scrutiny so far by the courts: Is there scientific proof that cocaine can cause lasting damage to a child exposed in the womb, or are the conclusions reached by Hayne and prosecutors based on faulty analysis and junk science?

The "Stand Your Ground" laws and women's immunity from prosecution is covered in this article about the case of Marissa Alexander.  This piece covers the prosecutors' arguments concerning the applicability of the "Stand Your Ground" law to this case.  Whatever one's conclusions about that specific law might be,  the Alexander case looks like an outrage when compared to other recent Florida cases which have employed the "Stand Your Ground" defense.

Inheritance laws, both religious and traditional laws, still handicap women in several African countries and in Muslim countries which apply the shariah law to inheritance.  An example of the latter from Morocco is covered in this article, which also notes the usual problem with religion-based discriminatory rules:  The women themselves do not wish to go against their holy books.  A reinterpretation can be difficult, however much it is needed.

This article from last January talks about the impact of traditional inheritance rules on widows in Tanzania.

Both types of unequal inheritance laws, have included certain protections for women, such as the implicit understanding that men have been culturally regarded as responsible for the monetary support of their mothers, daughters, sister-in-laws etc., via various arrangements.  But those protections have never amounted to the same thing as legal ownership of the assets and the right to determine how they are being used.  They have many more loopholes than legal ownership rights offer.

Likewise, one can argue that such laws were more ethical and practical in the traditional patriarchal system (though they always had those loopholes).  But the case for those arguments is even weaker today, and change is urgently needed