An Alabama Woman Who Was in Jail to ‘Protect’ Her Pregnancy Wasn’t Even Pregnant

An Alabama woman was jailed for allegedly using drugs during her pregnancy. But she was never pregnant.

Stacey Freeman was arrested and booked in Etowah County after being under investigation by the Department of Human Resources (DHR) for substance use, when one of her children told a social worker that her mom was pregnant. Freeman denied that she was pregnant and offered to take a pregnancy test, but she was not given one. Instead was arrested for chemical endangerment of a child, according to a lawsuit she filed against the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office on November 7.

“It’s just not even thinkable you could go off somebody’s word to make an arrest of somebody being pregnant,” Freeman’s attorney Martin Weinberg told Newsweek. “You know, you’re criminalizing pregnancy, then you find out they’re not even pregnant.”

Freeman was booked into the Etowah County Detention Center for 36 hours, where she says she was forced to sleep on the floor. She says she was menstruating at the time, and requested pads, but never received them. Her lawsuit also claims that following her release Etowah County Sheriff Investigator Brandi Fuller warned Freeman not to get pregnant or she could face additional charges. 

The chemical endangerment of a child charge that was brought upon Freeman was based on the principle of ‘fetal personhood’ that is enshrined in the Alabama constitution. It redefines an unborn child, specifically an unborn child in Utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability, as a human being.

And prosecutors in Alabama have used ‘fetal personhood’ to bring criminal charges to at least 20 felony cases in the last 23 years, according to an analysis of court records and medical examiner data by The Marshall Project. Many of these prosecutions ended in lengthy prison sentences for women who were most likely poor and struggling with addiction. 

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Etowah County has also heavily enforced any use of drugs during pregnancy. Research by Pregnancy Justice found that the county arrested and prosecuted more women for drug use during pregnancy than any other county in the state. More than 150 women have had charges brought against them and Fuller has been involved in most cases. 

Freeman was eventually given a pregnancy test and released after she tested negative. Her charges have been dropped, but they have not been expunged so her case, and mug shot remain public record. Though she did not spend much time in jail Weinberg told investigators that they could have avoided all of this by just administering a pregnancy test that Freeman offered to take in the first place. He said the sheriff’s department has shown a pattern of aggressively enforcing the state’s chemical endangerment law, which makes it illegal to use drugs during a pregnancy. 

“It’s good that the charges were dropped,” Weinberg told Newsweek. “But there’s harm in someone even being arrested and spending two days in jail. Wrongful arrest and malicious arrest is problematic on its own.”

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