Newsbrief: Utah Woman Charged With Murder in Newborn's Death, Drug Use Cited as Factor in Charge 3/19/04

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Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, sits at the center of a growing controversy in Utah after she was charged with murder in the death of one of two babies with whom she was pregnant. Rowland refused to submit to a Caesarean section procedure that doctors said could have saved the unborn child's life. Prosecutors alleged the other baby was born with drugs in her system and have said Rowland's alleged drug use would be a factor in the murder case, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Rowland, who has been jailed since the January 13 deliveries, denied using drugs while pregnant, but in court documents her boyfriend admitted smoking marijuana with her three weeks before she gave birth. Then Rowland admitted to the marijuana use, but said it must have been laced with cocaine. Prosecutors alleged that alcohol and cocaine were found in her system after she gave birth.

That finding influenced prosecutors, said Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Kent Morgan. Pregnant drug users do not "show the type of care and responsibility that we expect of mothers in the United States," he told the Tribune. Morgan called Rowland "callous and indifferent" toward her children. "She was taking drugs at the time her pregnancy was imminent," he said.

But although she was originally charged with endangerment of a child in the case of the surviving infant, those charges were dropped. Rowland, whom the Tribune reported has a history of mental illness, does not face a drug charge or an endangerment charge but a murder charge for not having the C-section done. And that has aroused the ire of mental health advocates and women's organizations across the ideological spectrum.

Doctors had recommended a C-section as early as December 25, when they found the babies were distressed. Susan Vogel, a member of the social justice group Salt Lake City Code Pink told the Tribune Rowland would not have been prosecuted if she had been more polite with doctors and nurses urging the procedure. Instead, Rowland reportedly replied that she did not want to be cut "from breast bone to pubic bone" and that a long C-section scar would detract from her sex life. "She does not fit the Utah ideal of motherhood," said Vogel. "If she was a married, church-going, religious woman, this case would not be prosecuted."

Vogel also pointed out that the case could set a dangerous precedent for prosecuting people who refuse to undergo elective medical procedures. "This woman has a right to decide whether to get a C-section," she said. "Women still have the right to decide how to give birth in the state of Utah."

She wasn't alone. Kim Gandy of the Utah chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) put the Rowland prosecution in the context of the struggle over abortion and the tendency to promote the rights of the fetus over those of the mother. "Our legal system recognizes every person's right to bodily integrity and the right to make your own medical decisions," Gandy said in a news release. "You can't force a father to donate a kidney, or bone marrow or even blood to save his child's life."

The Rowland case is making strange bedfellows. The Eagle Forum, the conservative women's group led by Phyllis Schafly, is also supporting Rowland. "She is being charged for not following an opinion," said Eagle Forum director Gayle Ruzicka. "Mothers should always have the right to say 'no.' The medical world doesn't know all. There are pregnancies all the time where doctors give advice that women choose not to take. Parents shouldn't be prosecuted for making medical decisions for themselves and their children."

Or charged with murder in part because of alleged drug use that had nothing to do with the death.

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Issue #329, 3/19/04 "Drugged Driving" Campaigners Open New Front with Federal Legislation | Correction/Update: Russia's New Drug Law Held Up, Due to Go Into Effect May 12 | Medical Marijuana in the State Legislatures, 2004 | New York's Dirty War | Screenings! "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters.shtml" to Air Around the Country March 29th to April 12th -- Host One in Your Home or Community or School! | DRCNet Merchandise Special Extended | Newsbrief: WHO Says Licit Drugs Greater Health Threat Than Illicit Ones | Newsbrief: Berlin on Verge of Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession | Newsbrief: Trouble in Christiania | Newsbrief: Judge vs. Prosecutor in St. Louis Sentencing Scuffle | Newsbrief: Joycelyn Elders Joins Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative Effort | Newsbrief: Utah Woman Charged With Murder in Newborn's Death, Drug Use Cited as Factor in Charge | Newsbrief: New Government Good News for Spanish Marijuana Culture | This Week in History | Drug War Facts 2004 Now Available Online | Job Opportunity: Prevention Point Philadelphia Hiring Syringe Exchange Site Worker | The Reformer's Calendar

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