For many of us, last week was a week full of gut-wrenching emotion. No, I’m not talking about the Republican Convention in Tampa, although parts of the GOP’s Platform give women and birth control advocates a lot to cry about. Two news stories from this past week --- one making national headlines and one in The State newspaper --- have sad and chilling parallels. Together, they illustrate the potential horrific results of unintended pregnancies and undesired motherhood. Not only for young women who become mothers involuntarily, before they are ready to embrace the responsibilities inherent in parenthood, but also for the children, who all-too-often end up victims. To many of us, these two stories also underscore our nation’s moral imperative for more (and certainly not less) birth control.
Casey Anthony reemerged into the spotlight after having served one year of probation for a 2010 check fraud conviction in Florida. Miss Anthony was acquitted last summer of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, a baby from an accidental pregnancy who was last seen alive with her young mother in early June 2008. Following their verdict, several jurors explained their not-guilty verdict, which some described as “digusting”. Casey Anthony had successfully thwarted the police investigation by refusing to answer questions, lying, misleading police (only a misdemeanor). Prosecutors had been unable to establish the time and cause of Caylee’s death beyond a shadow of a doubt, and Miss Anthony’s defense attorney Jose Baez convinced jurors that they had no legal grounds on which to convict her of first-degree murder or even child abuse. This week, Casey Anthony is a free woman at age 26. She may be Zinah Jennings’ American idol.
Zinah Jennings, 23, has been charged in South Carolina with unlawful conduct toward a child due to the disappearance of her one-year-old son, Amir, in November 2011. Like Casey Anthony, Miss Jennings at first laid low, avoiding her family and their questions about the child’s whereabouts. Like Casey Anthony, Miss Jennings has obstructed the investigation by giving conflicting accounts about where she last saw Amir. Casey Anthony told investigators that she had left Caylee with one or more babysitters, although she struggled to remember the babysitters’ names; Miss Jennings assures people that she left Amir in safe hands, but she can’t or won’t say in whose hands. It’s almost as though Casey Anthony has provided a “how to” book for women who didn’t want to end a pregnancy but do want to end motherhood.
It will be awhile before we know the end of this story and whether Zinah Jennings will be absolved of wrong-doing as Casey Anthony was: The trial was delayed last week after Miss Jennings, who has been diagnosed with depression, became a mother again. This time she gave birth to a baby girl.
Juxtapose these two stories with a third case of another young woman named Bei Bei Shuai. Similar to Miss Jennings, Bei Bei Shuai was abandoned by the father of her baby and became depressed over her unwanted pregnancy. However, in Miss Shuai’s case, depression, plus shame and disgrace within her Asian-American community, led her to attempt suicide. She ingested rat poison, and although she survived, her baby did not. Bei Bei Shuai was charged with murder and was incarcerated for more than a year without bail awaiting trial. Protests from 80 leading medical, public health, health advocacy organizations and experts --- who oppose women being imprisoned as murderers as a result of pregnancy losses --- were not enough to sway Indiana’s Supreme Court, which upheld the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision that women who experience pregnancy losses may be charged with murder. Legal experts say that this decision could have far-reaching implications for women who suffer miscarriages, stillbirths, smoke or drink alcohol while pregnant, or elect to have vaginal births after Cesareans.
No matter what you or I or anybody else think would be appropriate justice in any of these three cases, no matter how we feel about abortion personally, can we agree that America would be better off if young women only became pregnant when they intended to? Can we imagine how much healthier our families and our nation would be if every baby born could be wanted, nurtured and protected? This is not an impossible dream: Broad-based public health campaigns promoting birth control have been successful in other countries --- the United Kingdom is a great example, where unintended pregnancy rates have plummeted.
Why can’t the political parties of “We Can Do Better” and “Yes We Can” do more for America’s young women and families, who everybody agrees are the keys to our future? Want to have fewer single mothers on Medicaid? WE CAN DO BETTER. Want to reduce child abuse? YES WE CAN. In 2012, we know the science, and we have the medicine: Can America find the collective will to embrace pregnancy prevention as fundamental to public health and social health? When will we, as voters and taxpayers, insist upon this?