A Woman Was Jailed for 'Endangering' Her Fetus — She Wasn't Even Pregnant

Stacey Freeman was incarcerated for using drugs during pregnancy. But she wasn't pregnant.

Freeman, who lives in Gallant, Alabama, was being investigated by the Etowah County Department of Human Resources (DHR) for alleged drug use in January. During the investigation, one of her daughters told a DHR worker her mother was pregnant, according to a lawsuit Freeman filed against the Etowah County Sheriff's Office on November 7.

A caseworker confronted Freeman, who denied that she was pregnant and offered to take a pregnancy test at the courthouse. She did not get one.

Instead, the mother was arrested for chemical endangerment of a child and booked into the Etowah County Detention Center. She was left to sleep on the jail floor for 36 hours. Meanwhile, she was undergoing her menstrual cycle and asked for pads, which never came. She was told that her bond would be $10,000.

Julia Tutwiler Correctional Facility in Alabama
Here, the Julia Tutwiler Correctional Facility on August 20, 2018, in Wetumpka, Alabama. Stacey Freeman of Gallant, Alabama, was incarcerated for using drugs during pregnancy—but she wasn’t pregnant. Lynsey Addario / Contributor/Getty Images North America

"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."

The chemical endangerment of a child charge is based on the principle of "fetal personhood," a provision enshrined in the Alabama constitution. Since 2010, Etowah County has prosecuted more than 150 chemical endangerment cases involving pregnant and postpartum women, according to Weinberg.

Each of these women was held on a $10,000 cash bond and could not leave until they entered a drug rehabilitation program—bail conditions that are unconstitutional, said Freeman's lawsuit.

Over the last 23 years, prosecutors in Alabama have embraced some form of "fetal personhood" to bring criminal charges over a miscarriage or stillbirth in at least 20 felony cases, 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 mostly poor and struggling with addiction.

Freeman was finally given a pregnancy test in her jail cell, which determined that she was not pregnant. She was questioned by Etowah County Sheriff Investigator Brandi Fuller for 20 minutes and allowed to leave—but not before the investigator "threatened, warned, and admonished Freeman" that she would be charged if Fuller discovered she was pregnant in the next several months, according to the lawsuit.

Weinberg said that Freeman has struggled with humiliation in her small, close-knit community since she was released.

"It's traumatizing, it's not something that somebody gets over," he said. "It's not a good thing for people to think you're on drugs and pregnant...she would not do that. That's her position, that 'I would not put somebody that I'm carrying to life in that position.'"

Newsweek reached out to the Etowah County Sheriff's Office for comment.