We Call for Quick Action to Reduce the Detained Population During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Including Chelsea Becker, California Woman Incarcerated for Experiencing a Pregnancy Loss

A Statement From Pregnancy Justice

Recognizing that an outbreak of the coronavirus in jails and prisons will spread quickly and impact not only those behind bars, but entire communities, elected prosecutors from across the country, including from California, are calling on officials to reduce the incarcerated population. In light of this situation, it is particularly disappointing that Chelsea Becker remains in Kings County Jail, in Hanford, California.

On November 6, 2019, Ms. Becker was arrested and charged with murder under California Penal Code §187. Ms. Becker had experienced a stillbirth that the prosecutor claims (without scientific basis) was caused by her methamphetamine use during pregnancy. Ms. Becker was charged with this crime despite the fact that §187 does not authorize, nor has it ever been interpreted to authorize prosecution of a woman in relationship to her own pregnancy or any outcome of a woman's pregnancy. In fact, the statute clearly states that it cannot be used to prosecute the "mother of the fetus." §187(b)(3). Nonetheless, Ms. Becker was taken into custody and bail was originally set at $5,000,000.

On January 29, 2020, Ms. Becker's counsel Jacqueline Goodman, with the support of Pregnancy Justice, filed a motion to reduce her bail. The motion was reinforced by a letter from two nationally renowned physicians with board certifications in obstetrics and gynecology and addiction medicine. In their letter, Drs. Mishka Terplan and Tricia Wright expressed grave concern that Ms. Becker's incarceration was based on "the unsupported assumption that substance use disorders should be treated as dangerous criminal activities and/or the unfounded supposition that methamphetamine use causes stillbirths."

If released, Ms. Becker poses no danger to anyone in the community. Neither pregnancy nor drug use nor the dual status of being pregnant and addicted are crimes in California, nor are they indicative of a danger posed to others. Courts may not incarcerate people to prevent them from becoming pregnant and neither becoming pregnant nor losing a pregnancy makes a person dangerous. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in California 2,465 pregnancies end in stillbirths each year and none of the people who experienced these losses should be incarcerated.

Argument on bail was held before the Superior Court of Kings County on February 20, 2020. The Court reduced Ms. Becker's bail to $2,000,000. Neither she nor her family have the financial means to pay this bail. Setting bail at this level means that Ms. Becker remains incarcerated for a non-existent crime and, worse, at a time when jails are fertile ground for the spread of the potentially fatal coronavirus within the jail, to the staff who work there, and anyone in the community connected to those people.

For more information, or to schedule a phone interview with Pregnancy Justice, medical experts or legal counsel, please contact: Shawn Steiner | 347.943.8148 | SCS@AdvocatesforPregnantWomen.org