A woman from the African nation of Cameroon could give birth in a federal prison because she is HIV-positive.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock last month sentenced Quinta Layin Tuleh, 28, to 238 days in federal prison for having fake documents. Woodcock said the sentence would ensure that Tuleh’s baby, due Aug. 29, has a good chance of being born free of the AIDS virus.
Both the federal prosecutor and the defense attorney urged the judge to sentence Tuleh to 114 days, or time served, according to a transcript of the sentencing hearing. Woodcock instead ignored the federal sentencing guidelines and calculated her sentence to coincide with her due date.
Woodcock told Tuleh at her sentencing on May 14 in U.S. District Court that he was not imposing the longer prison term to punish her further but to protect her unborn child. He said that the defendant was more likely to receive medical treatment and follow a drug regimen in federal prison than out on her own or in the custody of immigration officials. The judge also said that his decision was based entirely on her HIV status. If Tuleh were pregnant but not infected with the AIDS virus, he would have sentenced her to time served.
Make no mistake: Prison is a punishment, not a source of health care. There is no indication that Tuleh planned to forgo health care or endanger her fetus (and even if there was, she shouldn’t be jailed, but this is particularly egregious because her attorneys provided the judge with information on the medical care she was seeking). She remains in jail because she’s assumed to be untrustworthy, and because unsubstantiated threats to the health of her fetus are deemed more important than her basic right to liberty.
Of course Tuleh should obtain pre-natal care. Of course she should get the necessary care to prevent HIV transmission to her chid. But that isn’t what this case is about. This case is about a person being incarcerated because of her HIV status and her status as a pregnant woman. It’s about controlling a woman’s body and taking away her most basic liberties under the guise of protecting an innocent
Being pregnant is not a crime. Being HIV-positive is not a crime. Neither are a statuses which should compromise one’s fundamental rights and liberties. But today, Quinta Layin Tuleh is sitting in jail because she happens to be both. It’s appalling.
Thanks, Dad, for the link.