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Column: Pregnant drug addicts try our patience and empathy, but they do not belong in prison

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I had conflicting reactions to the story of Chelsea Becker, 25-year-old Hanford, California, meth addict who delivered a stillborn baby boy in September: disgust, sadness, pity, sympathy.

An autopsy showed that the baby, Zechariah, reportedly had "toxic levels" of methamphetamine in his system. Becker is now in prison on suspicion of murdering him.

My colleague Alexandra Wigglesworth, who reported the story, visited Becker in prison, where she is being held instead of a $ 5 million bail.

"I didn't kill my baby," Becker sobbed during their visit. "I wish it could have been."

This is how addicts think. They do not believe that they are responsible for the chaos they cause; it's always someone else's fault. Or no one's fault.

Becker's record as a mother has been bleak. She gave birth to three other children, two of whom were born with meth in their systems. The oldest has been adopted by a friend of the family. The two younger ones are cared for by Becker's aunt, Julie Lance, thank goodness. She is doing something great and important.

However, Lance is angry and who can blame her?

"If they drop this charge and let her out of jail, she'll just do it again," Lance told Wigglesworth. "She needs mental health care, she needs drug rehabilitation – and she needs imprisonment."

I understand where she comes from, although we disagree about the prison. Almost a year ago I became the guardian of a family member who was removed from her troubled mother. I am single. I constantly travel for work. I help my 90 year old father. The moment my family obligations should be phased out, they have risen to 11.

By no choice of my own, I am back in a world of parent-teacher conferences, gymnastics lessons, babysitters and homework. The daily amount of laundry, crockery and dinner can be overwhelming. The price that family members pay for someone else's addiction is huge.

Part of me would like to see Becker rot in prison. But putting a drug-addicted mother in prison is not the answer. She needs counseling, rehabilitation and support.

After all, addiction is not a crime. It is a disease.

No woman should be accused of murder if her fetus dies because of her illness.

Despite the unceasing efforts of the Christian right to give personality to the unborn person, a fetus is not a separate person. Laws used by Kings County prosecutors to accuse Becker of murder were never intended to be used against pregnant mothers; they were meant to be used against others – such as abusive spouses – who kill a baby in the womb.

::

In large and small ways, society controls the body of women in ways that men would never tolerate.

Big: Throughout the country, conservative state legislators are trying to restrict access to safe and legal abortion by adopting irrelevant laws designed solely to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Klein: When I first became pregnant with my daughter, I took my then editor to dinner at Valentino, the once fantastic, now closed Italian restaurant in Santa Monica. She was visibly pregnant; I was not yet visible.

"Do you want a cocktail?" Asked the waiter. I ordered a glass of wine.

Then he turned to my editor, looked at her swollen belly and said, "You're not going to drink tonight."

Not amused, she ordered a glass of wine.

We both gave birth to beautiful, incredibly intelligent daughters.

And now, almost 30 years later, we are still shaking our heads about the waiter's arrogance.

::

Here's the thing about trying to hold women responsible for what happens during pregnancy: something always goes wrong.

Women with a miscarriage are not rare. About 15% to 20% of pregnancies end up in a miscarriageand some estimates are much higher.

Unexplained stillbirths heartbreaking usual, which occurs in about one in every 100 pregnancies every year.

Babies of women taking various completely legal, life-saving prescription drugs – antidepressants, bipolar disease medications, painkillers for eliminating diseases – must sometimes continue a withdrawal period.

Despite known risks, some women smoke during pregnancy. They drink during pregnancy. They drive during pregnancy and have car accidents.

In the 1980s, the country was in the grip of what was then the & # 39; crack baby epidemic & # 39; was named countless stories in the newspaper about how schools were about to be inundated with a generation of damaged children, raised by grandparents, who would eat public school resources with their intellectual and emotional deficits.

The "crack baby generation" has never come true and we now recognize that coverage for the racial hysteria that it was.

Every time I walk to my car in a public garage, I see scary signs imposed by California voters in 1986: "WARNING, & # 39; the signs say, & # 39; If you breathe in the air in this parking garage, you may be exposed to chemicals, including carbon monoxide and gasoline or diesel exhaust gases that the State of California knows cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. & # 39;

Should pregnant women avoid underground parking? Should pregnant women who work in parking garages be fired for the well-being of their babies?

Should they be held liable for delivering a child with a birth defect? They were finally warned.

Give me a break.

More importantly, give addicted mothers a break – and the help they need.

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