Courts Health Reproductive Rights

Chelsea Becker, Woman Incarcerated for Pregnancy Loss, Released on Bail

On Tuesday, a California Judge granted Chelsea Becker’s request to be released on her own recognizance, and she will enter a residential treatment facility upon release.

Becker had a stillbirth in 2019, and at the time Kings County District Attorney Keith L. Fagundes claimed that the stillbirth was caused by methamphetamine use, on no scientific basis. The District Attorney charged Becker with murder, despite the law stating that it “cannot be used to prosecute the ‘mother of the fetus.’”

Leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all came forward in opposition of the misuse of the criminal law to address issues of drug use and pregnancy.

The National Perinatal Society said in a 2017 position statement on the subject that “treating this personal and public health issue as a criminal issue-or a deficiency in parenting that warrants child welfare intervention-results in pregnant and parenting people avoiding prenatal and obstetric care and putting the health of themselves and their infants at increased risk…The threats of discrimination, incarceration, loss of parental rights, and loss of personal autonomy are powerful deterrents to seeking appropriate prenatal care.”

In 2018, District Attorney Fagundes also prosecuted Adora Perez for murder when she had a stillbirth. Unlike Becker, Perez’ counsel did not challenge the legitimacy of the prosecution and was encouraged to plead guilty to “manslaughter of a fetus.” She is serving an 11-year sentence. DA Fagundes is the only prosecutor in California in the last three decades to use the state’s murder law against victims of pregnancy loss.

“We are relieved that Ms. Becker has been released and can continue to fight these charges from outside of jail,” states Samantha Lee, a Staff Attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “These charges should never be brought against any person for experiencing a pregnancy loss. And because California law does not authorize this prosecution, we will soon be filing an application to have Ms. Becker’s case dismissed altogether. We will also continue to fight against the DA’s flagrant misuse of his power and the dangerous medical misinformation he is promoting through the prosecutions of Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez.”

Sources: National Advocates for Pregnant Women 3/9/21; National Advocates for Pregnant Women 06/2018