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Officials Charged A California Woman With Murder After They Found Meth In Her Stillborn Fetus's System

It's not the first time in the US a pregnant woman has been charged with a crime, including murder, for behavior that prosecutors allege endangered a fetus.

Last updated on November 7, 2019, at 7:06 p.m. ET

Posted on November 7, 2019, at 5:11 p.m. ET

Kings County Sheriff's Office

A 25-year-old woman in California has been charged with murder in the death of her stillborn baby after officials found "toxic levels of Methamphetamine"
in the fetus's system.

According to a Hanford Police Department press release provided to BuzzFeed News, Chelsea Cheyenne Becker was arrested Tuesday and booked for a first-degree murder felony over the stillbirth she experienced in September.

Police said they received information about a "suspicious fetal death" on Sept. 10, the day Becker delivered a stillborn fetus. Medical professionals believed the fetus "may have been drug exposed while the mother was pregnant," the press release stated.

An autopsy on the fetus was conducted by the Kings County Coroner's Office, and the death was determined a homicide due to the levels of methamphetamine in the fetus's system.

Hanford PD Sergeant Justin Vallin told BuzzFeed News that Becker was about eight and a half months pregnant when she experienced a stillbirth.

Police said they learned of Becker's "years of substance abuse" during questioning, and according to the release, she told officials she "used Methamphetamine while she was most recently pregnant as late as three days prior to giving birth to the stillborn fetus."

According to local outlet KGPE, Becker's aunt said the 25-year-old's three other children were born with meth in their system.

Becker's court-appointed attorney, Robert Henry Stover, did not respond to requests for comment.

It's not the first time in the country a pregnant woman has been charged with a crime, including murder, for behavior that prosecutors allege endangered a fetus.

In 2007, a Mississippi teenager named Rennie Gibbs was indicted for "depraved-heart murder" of her stillborn child, after the state medical examiner found traces of a cocaine byproduct in the fetus's blood and declared the death a homicide. (Medical experts later said the umbilical cord being wrapped around the fetus's neck was the most obvious cause of death, ProPublica reported.) The charges against Gibbs were dismissed in 2014.

In 2011, Indiana prosecutors charged a woman with attempted feticide and murder after her 3-day-old baby died following a cesarean-section delivery. The woman, Bei Bei Shuai, had attempted suicide days before the baby was born. Shuai reached a plea deal in 2013 that saw her plead guilty to criminal recklessness but did not require her to serve more jail time.

Advocates for pregnant people have said that laws that enable women to be prosecuted for allegedly endangering their unborn child can open the door to more cases where people are charged for miscarriages and abortions.

Lynn Paltrow, the founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), told BuzzFeed News that the prosecution in Becker's case is based on a similar argument that anti-abortion advocates use, which is the idea that fetuses "should be protected as if they are already a separate person."

Paltrow said that the California courts have previously rejected the interpretation of the law to prosecute pregnant women, pointing to two unrelated cases in 1992. That year, Roseann Mercedes Jaurigue was charged with murder over her stillbirth after prosecutors found that she had substance abuse issues.

Separately, Lynda Leigh Jones gave birth when she was 7 and a half months pregnant; the district attorney charged her months later for murder, claiming the death of her baby "was due to a premature birth induced by the alleged ingestion of Methamphetamine."

In both cases, the court dismissed the charges.

According to Paltrow, Becker "was caught in the crosshairs of the war on drugs and the war on abortion."

According to court records, Becker is expected to attend her next hearing Nov. 19.

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