Pubdate: Thu, 21 Nov 2002
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps


Regina McKnight is the only woman in America serving time for murder for 
having a stillborn child while she was a cocaine user. South Carolina is 
the only state in the union that will allow such a severe charge to be 
pressed against so-called "crack moms," but that might be changing.

Arguments were heard by the S.C. Supreme Court earlier this month that 
would overturn the law. We hope the justices will decide that South 
Carolina's law isn't ahead of its time, but a bad piece of legislation that 
needs to be struck down.

McKnight, who was convicted last year and sentenced to 12 years in prison, 
gave birth to a dead baby girl who tested positive for a cocaine 
by-product. No other cause of death was entertained. Assuming that cocaine 
killed Baby McKnight, however, there is a question whether her mother knew 
there was a correlation between drug abuse and fetal viability. As Supreme 
Court Chief Justice Jean Toal said, "You've got to show some proof this 
uneducated homeless person knew taking cocaine while she was pregnant would 
harm her baby."

Further, it's important to recognize that McKnight did not use drugs out of 
choice, but because she was addicted. That fact seems to have escaped Greg 
Hembree, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted McKnight last year.

In an interview prior to the Supreme Court hearing, he said she willfully 
killed her baby "because of her selfishness or her own personal desires."

Interestingly, defenders of the law say it is a powerful tool for getting 
addicted women into treatment. It seems they are talking out of both sides 
of their mouths.

It has been well documented that other behavior during pregnancy, including 
smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, is also harmful to the unborn. In 
fact, a study earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical 
Association stated that cocaine use is about as harmful as smoking 
cigarettes and less harmful than heavy drinking. However, there's no law 
preventing pregnant women from indulging their "personal desires" for a 
pack of Marlboro or a six-pack of beer. The sight of a heavily pregnant 
woman sucking on a cigarette is, unfortunately, all too common.

The fact that McKnight was engaging in an unlawful activity prejudices many 
people against her. But suppose a baby had been born dead after the mother 
was in a car accident in which she had not worn her seat belt. That's 
against the law, too. Should she be charged with murder?

The "crack mom" laws have been a hobby horse for outgoing Attorney General 
Charlie Condon to ride for most of his time in office, both in Columbia and 
previously as a solicitor in Charleston. Wyndi Anderson, executive director 
of South Carolina Advocates for Pregnant Women, was quoted in a recent 
press report as saying his policy was directed at poor, African-American 
women such as Regina McKnight, and that it was all part of his political 

We don't hold out much hope that incoming Attorney General Henry McMaster 
will be see things any differently; in fact, he may politicize the attorney 
general's office even worse. But the Supreme Court can take the matter out 
of his hands by striking down a bad law and allowing McKnight to clean up 
her act outside a prison cell.
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