Remarks by Samantha Lee, Staff Attorney, as part of Attorney General Rob Bonta’s press conference on 1/6/2022.
Thank you, Attorney General Bonta. My name is Samantha Lee and I am a staff attorney at Pregnancy Justice.
As an organization dedicated to advancing the civil and human rights of all people capable of pregnancy, Pregnancy Justice is honored to stand with Attorney General Bonta in support of this legal alert instructing district attorneys, police chiefs, and county sheriffs in California not to misuse the state’s murder statute to criminalize people for their pregnancy outcomes.
If the Supreme Court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade, that will make all pregnant people, not just those seeking abortion, vulnerable to state surveillance, control, and potential criminal prosecution. While many are simply waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision, Attorney General Bonta has taken concrete action to protect the health and rights of all those capable of becoming pregnant.
The Attorney General’s guidance will help protect the thousands of Californians who become pregnant each year from experiencing the trauma of facing criminal charges because of a pregnancy loss. Those like our client Chelsea Becker, who spent 19 months fighting a murder charge, 16 of those months in jail, for experiencing a stillbirth that was blamed, without scientific basis, on her consumption of a controlled substance. It will prevent more cases like that of Adora Perez, who was charged with murder under similar circumstances and pleaded guilty to manslaughter of a fetus, which is not an actual crime in California. Ms. Perez is currently serving 11 years in prison as a coalition of advocates work to achieve her freedom.
As Attorney General Bonta and his predecessor Attorney General Becerra have stated in amicus briefs in the Perez and Becker cases, the original intent and plain language of Section 187 was not to charge people for the loss of their own pregnancies, but rather to ensure that other individuals could be held responsible for causing the end of a pregnancy (such when someone commits a physical assault against a pregnant person). By making clear that a person who experiences a pregnancy loss is not a murderer, Attorney General Bonta reminds us that pregnancy is a health issue not a law enforcement one.
Ten- to fifteen-percent of known pregnancies end in pregnancy loss. Ms. Perez’s and Ms. Becker’s experiences are shared by women across the country–from Alabama to Oklahoma to Ohio and New York–who have faced criminal charges for such things as driving without a seatbelt while pregnant, not accessing prenatal care, and using prescription medication appropriately while pregnant. The number of these prosecutions has dramatically accelerated in recent years and Pregnancy Justice is prepared to challenge the many additional cases we fear will arise if Roe is overturned.
This guidance is a national model that we hope other states’ leaders will follow to promote the health of pregnant people, children, and families, and to end the scourge of pregnancy-based prosecutions. It demonstrates an understanding of the reality of a post-Roe America, in which the fundamental rights and liberty of anyone capable of pregnancy are at stake. We thank you for your leadership, and look forward to a future in which no person is prosecuted because of pregnancy.