NAPW Staff Attorney Samantha Lee testified in support of a California bill that will ensure that no one in the State of California will be prosecuted for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss. In her testimony, Ms. Lee shared a statement from NAPW's client, Chelsea Becker, who was charged with murder for experiencing a stillbirth in Kings County, California. Ms. Becker spent over a year in jail before she was released. The charges against her were dropped in June, 2021.
NAPW Testimony Before California General Assembly
Good morning, my name is Samantha Lee and I am a staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, where we work to ensure that no one is arrested, shamed, or denied Constitutional or human rights because they have the capacity for pregnancy, are pregnant, or because of any outcome of their pregnancies — including births, miscarriages, stillbirths and abortions. We were some of the attorneys who represented Chelsea Becker against murder charges for her pregnancy loss. I would like to read for the committee a statement from Ms. Becker about her experience:
“My name is Chelsea Becker. I was incarcerated in Kings County Jail for more than a year, from November 6, 2019 until March 10, 2021, while I was awaiting trial for first degree murder, after experiencing a stillbirth, while addicted to methamphetamine. I have read the proposed amended bill and based on my experience, I believe it should be passed. Experiencing the loss of my baby–alone–caused a lot of trauma for me and while I was in custody I was unable to receive the proper counseling to help me with the grief process. Even with the counselors at the jail, I was afraid anything I might have said to any of them would be used against me in court, so I suffered alone. While I was in jail, my youngest living son, whom I had custody of up until this time, had been taken into CPS and was later adopted. If the hospital had never involved law enforcement due to this stillbirth happening, I would still have custody of my son. The charge wasn’t dismissed until May, 2021, and by then the adoption had been finalized months prior. My experience with the justice system in Kings County was detrimental to my mental health, and I feel that I was failed deeply. If this bill is passed it would prevent other people from experiencing what I did in being prosecuted and punished for something that could have happened to anybody. I hope that in the future, no woman will ever be prosecuted for losing a pregnancy.”
I would like to emphasize to the committee that about fifteen percent of all known pregnancies end in pregnancy loss. This is a fact of biology not behavior. Methamphetamine did not cause Ms. Becker’s pregnancy loss nor could it have. Pregnancy loss is so traumatic already, and a case like Ms. Becker’s multiplies that trauma exponentially. Even as she ultimately won her case and regained her freedom, she spent 16 months in jail during COVID, she fought the charges for 19 months, and she lost her older child to the system.
In order to prevent this from happening to anyone else in California, we strongly urge the committee to give its full support to this bill to further clarify the existing statute and the Attorney General’s guidance on this issue. This bill would be a crucial step in protecting anyone in California with the capacity for pregnancy from this type of trauma, and align with the original intent of the law, which was to protect pregnant people in California, not criminalize them. As the AG said in issuing his legal alert declaring these prosecutions contrary to law, “the loss of a pregnancy… should be met with an outstretched hand not handcuffs.” We strongly urge the committee to give its full support to this bill.