Law as the codification of attitude
By Mairi Campbell Jack
So, I was able to have a righteously leftist angry breakfast on Saturday courtesy of reading this article in the Guardian. The jist of it is that the Foetal Homicide Law that some states in America have introduced to protect women and their unborn from violent attacks from ex-partners etc, has now started being used to prosecute women who’s babies die, either in or outside the womb when the mother has taken drugs while pregnant. Medical proof of the drugs causing the babies’ death appears to not be required.
The most shocking case is 15 year-old Rennie Gibbs who took cocaine while pregnant, and who gave birth to a stillborn at 36 weeks. She has been charged with “depraved-heart murder”. Yes, I know. What is shocking is that there is no link between her cocaine habit and the death of her child, what is more shocking is that anyone with a cocaine habit while pregnant is in need of help, support and compassion long before their child is born, what is even more shock is that she is 15. Anyone pregnant and with a cocaine habit at the age of fifteen is in need of… do I need to say?
So, we all get to shake our heads at the casual disregard American’s have for women’s and human’s rights. Get to thank our lucky stars that we live in a more secular society which means that fundamental religiosity does not get to twist laws that are meant to protect people. However that is not the case. This is not a case of good law gone bad. This is a case of an attitude being expressed through law, and it is an attitude that I have seen and still continue to see in Scottish society.
I blogged on how I feel that the way breast feeding is promoted by the Scottish Government is inherently sexist. What surprised me the most was the down right nasty comments received from other women, and if they weren’t nasty, they could be very patronising. Why these reactions? Because these women had decided to conform to the message sent out, and it wasn’t enough that they conform to it, everyone else should. By questioning the message and the evidence it is based on I was either stupid, and seen as a justifiable target for “scathing comments” or in “need of healing” i.e. if you disagree you are not right and I will be either angry at you or sad for you. It’s not just breastfeeding, the most emotive subject surrounding pregnancy and motherhood, but it even comes down to the unscientific advice on what you can or can’t eat when pregnant (let alone what you drink, smoke or snort). I could list hunners of anecdotes from myself, my friends, my family, all of which illustrate the fact that people who know nothing about you feel they have a right to tell you what to do and how to behave as soon as you are pregnant. However the blog post isn’t long enough. Buy me a pint and I’ll go into detail.
In both this society and America, women are immediately seen as public property as soon as they become pregnant, they are infantilised by those around them. Their worth as individuals is decided by how much they conform to prevailing, and sometimes unscientific, attitudes towards pregnancy. That is not to say that I think women should be taking all kind of narcotic substances when they are pregnant, but as a society we are so obsessed with women as being agents of risk for their children, we forget that the women who are in behaving in this way are desperate, and in need help, but we would rather judge them than provide that. Shame on America. Shame on us.
Mairi blogs at www.alumpinthethroat.wordpress.com and is on Twitter: @lumpinthethroat