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Predictable Post-Roe Chaos: Pregnant Florida Inmate’s Lawyer Says Fetus Is Being ‘Wrongfully Detained’

A large crowd of anti-abortion and abortion rights protesters outside the Supreme Court.

A currently incarcerated pregnant woman in Florida is part of what could turn out to be a landmark case in the debate over fetal personhood. While Natalia Harrell, 24, is not fighting the legality of her own imprisonment while awaiting trial for a second-degree murder charge, her lawyer is arguing that Harrell’s fetus is being wrongfully detained. 

Harrell’s attorney, William M. Norris, claims that the fetus, which he refers to as the “unborn child” throughout official legal documents, hasn’t been given access to proper medical care while Harrell has been incarcerated, and has even been exposed to harm, citing an incident wherein she had been held in a prison van without air conditioning during 100-plus degree heat. She has allegedly also been denied access to vitamins and transportation to doctor visits.

“An unborn child has rights independent of its mother, even though it’s still in the womb,” Norris told the Washington Post. “The unborn child has been deprived of due process of law in this incarceration. You simply have to have the unborn child as a factor in the equation.”

So by this logic, Norris says his client should be released from jail until after she gives birth so that her fetus will no longer be wrongfully held. He says her “unborn child is a person as defined under the Florida Constitution and United States Constitution.” And while this argument may seem totally off the wall, this sort of logic is popping up more and more since the fall of Roe V. Wade. 

The devastating Supreme Court decision last year took away the hard-won federal guarantee of abortion rights, and many states began to strip away women’s bodily autonomy and grant personhood to fetuses at a variety of stages, but generally at the first detection of a heartbeat, which is usually at six weeks since conception.

Last summer, for example, a pregnant Texas woman who received a ticket for driving alone in an HOV lane argued that her unborn fetus’ personhood counted as a passenger. And, shockingly, in response to two personhood-related cases, the Georgia State Congress developed the Georgia House Bill 481, defining “any unborn child with a detectable human heartbeat … as eligible for the Georgia individual income tax dependent exemption.” Yep. Stick your fetus on your tax return, Georgians. 
Finally, in 2018 in Brazil, a mainly Roman Catholic country, their Supreme Court ruled that pregnant criminal defendants should be allowed to await their trials at home.

(featured image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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