A woman was thrown in jail for taking drugs while being pregnant, but she says she wasn't pregnant at all.
Earlier this year, while Stacey Freeman was under investigation by the Department of Human Resources for substance use, her child falsely told authorities that Freeman was pregnant, AL.com reported. Ordered to take a pregnancy test, Freeman never did—and so a local official issued a warrant for her arrest, according to a lawsuit that Freeman filed.
Freeman was arrested for chemical endangerment of a child, a version of a charge that Alabama has often used to go after women accused of using drugs while pregnant. The charge suggests that a fetus qualifies as a “child,” which is a core tenet of the anti-abortion principle of “fetal personhood.” If codified into law, “fetal personhood” provisions can endanger the rights of pregnant people, pitting their liberty and safety against that of the fetus inside them, according to experts.
In 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a law originally meant to shield children from home meth labs could also be used to shield fetuses. Alabama was also the first state in the country to enshrine “fetal personhood” into its state constitution.
Freeman was booked into Etowah County Detention Center on Feb. 1, AL.com reported. She was only there for roughly 36 hours, but the whole ordeal left lasting scars, Freeman’s attorney Martin Weinberg told AL.com, particularly because information about her arrest is still circulating online.
“She’s still having people stop her and say, ‘Weren’t you charged with using drugs while pregnant?’” Weinberg told the outlet. (Weinberg didn’t answer a call from VICE News and does not appear to have a working voicemail.) “There is still embarrassment.”
“It’s just shameful you can go off somebody’s word that somebody’s pregnant,” Weinberg added.
Freeman also allegedly had her period while she was in the jail, but was deprived of products like tampons and pads, according to AL.com.
The Etowah County Detention Center is run by the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. The office didn’t immediately reply to a VICE News request for comment and the two named defendants in the lawsuit, two officials with the sheriff’s office, didn’t reply to AL.com’s requests for comment.
There have now been at least 20 felony cases in Alabama where prosecutors used “fetal personhood” ideas to bring criminal charges over a miscarriage or stillbirth, the Marshall Project reported earlier this year, along with the Washington Post, AL.com, and The Frontier. Abortion rights advocates fear that, now that Roe v. Wade is gone and law enforcement is set to only increase its surveillance of pregnant people, more people will find themselves behind bars after being accused of endangering fetuses. Cases like Freeman’s may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Earlier this year, a pregnant woman in the same Alabama county was reportedly jailed for months because she had smoked some weed. She bled for five weeks, was forced to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding, and was diagnosed with a condition that heightened her risk of miscarrying, AL.com reported.