Fla. lawyer argues pregnant inmate’s fetus is being illegally detained

The Washington Post

The attorney filed a petition that alleges the ‘unborn child’ has committed no crime and should be released

A few months after becoming pregnant, Natalia Harrell sat in a corrections van without air conditioning, according to a recent petition in Florida’s appellate courts. It was more than 100 degrees inside the van, the petition says, and a Miami-Dade County jail employee opened a door only after hearing Harrell banging against the walls.

Harrell, 24, has been jailed without bond since July, when she was accused of fatally shooting another woman and charged with second-degree murder. She was six weeks pregnant at the time and, now eight months along, says the jail staff has endangered the fetus by refusing proper prenatal care and putting her in situations like the incident in the inmate transport van.

The allegations are part of a writ of habeas corpus Harrell’s attorney filed last week in Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. While habeas corpus filings typically allege that a person is being illegally detained, Harrell’s lawyer has instead argued that it is Harrell’s fetus who is being improperly jailed, as first reported by the Miami Herald.

The petition by attorney William M. Norris says the “unborn child” is innocent and should be discharged from jail so it can receive proper care. That would require Harrell to be released until the child is born, the writ argues.

“An unborn child has rights independent of its mother, even though it’s still in the womb,” Norris told The Washington Post. “The unborn child has been deprived of due process of law in this incarceration. You simply have to have the unborn child as a factor in the equation.”

Norris’s argument, which posits that Harrell’s “unborn child is a person as defined under the Florida Constitution and United States Constitution,” is reminiscent of the concept of fetal personhood, the belief that a fetus is a person entitled to constitutional protections. The notion has picked up traction and shown a surge in relevancy since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to an abortion, in the summer.

On Monday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office filed a motion to dismiss Norris’s petition, saying he didn’t provide necessary documentation to support the allegations about inadequate medical treatment. The motion argues that habeas corpus is the wrong legal argument under which to seek relief.

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