Florida inmate Natalia Harrell (pictured) recently petitioned to have her unborn child — and, consequently, herself — released from jail. So far, her legal effort has been unsuccessful.
Initially, this struck me as being a bit like a physically immobile person complaining about house arrest. The child’s immediate environment will be the womb regardless, so what’s the point? Was this a pro-abortion “gotcha” suit to undermine fetal personhood? I acknowledge the personhood of unborn children, and not just in the context of abortion. Nevertheless, as a Florida lawyer, I was skeptical about the merits of the case. The fact that Harrell is charged with second-degree murder gave me further cause for concern; if released, would she be a threat to other human lives?
But there’s another wrinkle: Harrell claims that she and her baby are not receiving adequate prenatal care in custody. Given the awful experiences of other pregnant inmates throughout the United States, that claim is not difficult for me to believe. The Miami-Dade County Corrections Department, for its part, argues that it is trying to offer prenatal care but that Harrell has refused.
The case made its way to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. Appellate courts do not resolve factual disputes, and apparently the trial court had not addressed the prenatal care issue. The Third District therefore sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. Judge Monica Gordo wrote a concurring opinion which recognized the unborn child’s standing to bring the lawsuit and explored various rights that unborn Floridians enjoy, while concluding that freedom from otherwise lawful incarceration is not among those rights.
The baby is already eight months old. My educated guess is that he or she will be born before the trial court issues a decision, making the case moot.
[Photo credit: Miami-Dade County]