OPEN LETTER TO THE OKLAHOMA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

June 25, 2007

David Prater, Oklahoma County District Attorney
Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office
320 Robert S. Kerr Ste. 505
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

June 25, 2007

Dear Mr. Prater:

As medical, public health, and child welfare advocacy organizations and as physicians, health care professionals, medical ethicists, midwives, child-welfare advocates, public health advocates, researchers, and as members of the community, we are greatly concerned about the arrest and prosecution of Theresa Lee Hernandez for first degree murder based on the fact that she suffered a stillbirth at 32 weeks of pregnancy. This unprecedented charge is based on the highly questionable medical claim that the pregnancy loss can be attributed to Ms. Hernandez’ drug use during pregnancy.

While we do not in any way condone a person’s use of alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs that might affect pregnancy outcome or a person’s ability to parent, our commitment to the care of pregnant women and their children, as well as the interests of society as a whole, requires us to speak out against dangerous and counterproductive measures such as the arrest of pregnant women and new mothers as murderers subject to life imprisonment.

As every leading medical organization to address this issue has concluded, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the March of Dimes, the problem of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy is a health issue best addressed through education and community-based treatment, not through the criminal justice system.

Drug dependency is a medical condition - not a crime. Pregnant women do not experience alcoholism and other drug dependencies because they want to harm their fetuses or because they don’t care about their children.

Like other chronic medical conditions, drug dependency can be controlled and overcome through medical treatment. Medical knowledge about addiction and dependency treatment demonstrates that the majority of dependent people do not, and cannot, simply stop their drug use as a result of threats of arrest or other negative consequences. In fact, threat-based approaches do not protect children. They have been shown to deter pregnant and parenting women not from using drugs, but from seeking prenatal care and drug and alcohol treatment.

Health risks to women, fetuses, and children whether from poverty, inadequate nutrition, exposure to alcohol, drugs, or other factors can be mitigated through prenatal care, counseling, and continued medical supervision. For this to be effective, however, the patient must trust her health care provider to safeguard her confidences and stand by her while she attempts to improve her health (even when those efforts are not always successful). Converting the physician’s exam room into an interrogation chamber and turning health care professionals into agents of law enforcement destroys this trust.

Unfortunately many women in Oklahoma find it difficult to obtain the help they need to overcome their alcohol and drug dependency problems. In fact, according to the federal government’s drug treatment facility locator there are no residential treatment programs designed to meet the needs of pregnant and parenting women – or even women in general -- within 100 miles of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Arresting people with drug related problems not only deters them from seeking help – it is likely to deter others from offering compassion and providing the resources necessary to develop and fund the kinds of treatment that we know can help pregnant women and their families.

Moreover, miscarriages and stillbirths are not an uncommon outcome of pregnancy. Between 1998 and 2002 women and families experienced more than 1,500 stillbirths in Oklahoma. Women who become pregnant should not risk criminal prosecutions for murder should they suffer such a loss. Medically, it is still in many instances impossible to identify the cause of a stillbirth. Subjecting a woman and her family to criminal investigation after experiencing such a loss undermines the provision of health care and the process of recovery for both women and their families.

We therefore ask you, in the interests of maternal, fetal, and child health to drop this dangerous and counter-productive prosecution.

Signed,

Organizations

Oklahoma State Medical Association
Oklahoma Nurses Association
Oklahoma Women’s Network
National Association of Social Workers, Oklahoma State Chapter
Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma
YWCA Oklahoma City
American Constitution Society, Oklahoma City University School of Law Chapter
American Public Health Association
American Society of Addiction Medicine
Academy on Violence and Abuse
American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence
American College of Nurse Midwives
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
Association of Women Psychiatrists
Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrical & Neonatal Nurses
Center for Gender and Justice
Doctors of the World-USA
Group for Chronic Addiction Research
Hygeia Foundation for Perinatal Loss and Bereavement, Inc.
Institute for Health and Recovery
International Center for Advancement of Addiction Treatment
National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Institute for Reproductive Health
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Perinatal Association
National Stillbirth Society
National Women’s Health Network
Our Bodies Ourselves
Society of General Internal Medicine
Unitarian Universalists For Addiction Education

Medical Experts, Researchers, and Medical Health Professionals

Elizabeth Armstrong, Ph.D., M.P.A, Department of Sociology and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, Faculty Associate at both the Office of Population Research and the Center for Health and Wellbeing* (Princeton, NJ)
Darcy Baer, L.P.N., Lakeside Women’s Hospital* (Oklahoma City, OK)
Marylou Behnke, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Florida, Board Certified
Neonatologist, Medical Director of the Early Steps program* (an early intervention program for children from birth to three years of age) (Gainesville, FL)
Michael Berman, M.D., Clinical Professor of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Yale University School of Medicine,* President of Hygeia Foundation for Perinatal Loss and Bereavement Inc. (New Haven, CT)
Jeffrey Blustein, Ph.D, Professor of Bioethics, Montefiore Medical Center/ Wieler Division*
(New York, NY)
Linda H. Chaudron, M.D., M.S., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and OB/GYN, Co-
Director, Residency Psychiatry Program, Director, Strong Behavioral Healthcare for Women, University of Rochester Medical Center* (Rochester, NY)
Deborah Coady, M.D., Board Certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fellow, New York
Academy of Medicine, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology* (New York, NY)
Arnold Cohen, M.D., Chairman of Department of OB/GYN Albert Einstein Medical Center* (New York, NY)
Eugenia J. Cowden, R.N., Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrical and Neonatal Nurses (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Virginia Delaney-Black, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Pediatrics at Wayne State University* and
Associate Director of the Children’s Research Center of Michigan at Children’s Hospital of Michigan* (Detroit, MI)
Marilyn Escobedo, M.D. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Fonda Davis Eyler, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, University of
Florida College of Medicine, Licensed Developmental Psychologist, Director of Early Steps* (Gainesville, FL)
Deborah Frank, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine,*
Boston University School of Public Health,* Director of the Failure to Thrive Program at the Boston Medical Center and Staff Physician in the Child Development Unit* (Boston, MA)
Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii* (Maui, Hawaii)
Akhtar Hameed, M.D., OB/GYN (Oklahoma City, OK)
Judith Harris, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (A.R.N.P.), (Oklahoma City, OK)
Joanne Bryant Horn, M.P.H., J.D. (Midwest City, OK)
Jennifer A. Hunter, M.D., Fellow in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, (Oklahoma City, OK)
Brenda Johnston, R.N., B.S.N., Oklahoma City University Director of Student Health and Disability Services* (Oklahoma City, OK)
Lynda Kruse, M.S., R.N.C., Clinical Nurse Specialist (C.N.S.), (Oklahoma City, OK)
Howard Minkoff, M.D., Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maimonides Medical Center,* Distinguished Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, State University of New York Health Science Center Brooklyn,* Member, Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists* (Brooklyn, NY)
Robert G. Newman, M.D., President Emeritus of Continuum Health Partners, Inc.,* comprising four hospitals and with the largest chemical dependency treatment services of any health care system in the United States, Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health and Professor of Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine* (New York, NY)
Barbara L. Norton, Dr.P.H., Assistant Professor of Research Health Promotion Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, College of Public Health* (Norman, OK)
Barbara O’Brien, R.N. (Norman, OK)
Mary Petermann, A.R.N.P. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Albert L. Pizzica, D.O., Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (Philadelphia, PA)
Apple Rice, M.D. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Ruth Rose-Jacobs, Sc.D., Professor of Pediatrics and a Research Scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine* (Boston, MA)
David Schneider, M.D., M.S.P.H., Immediate Past President and Board Chair of Academy on
Violence and Abuse Family Practice (San Antonio, TX)
Morton Skorodin, M.D., Internal Medicine (Stillwater, OK)
Lisa W. Smith, M.D., OB/GYN (Oklahoma City, OK)
Dana Stone, M.D., OB/GYN, Lakeside Women’s Hospital* (Oklahoma City, OK)
Vanessa L. Teichman, L.P.N. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Ri Teref-Ta, Certified Nurse Midwife (C.N.M.), Community Midwifery Services* (Norman, OK)
Kenneth G. Thompson, M.D. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Virginia L. Vaughan, M.D., OB/GYN (Oklahoma City, OK)
Frank Wilson III, M.D., OB/GYN, Medical Director Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, OK)

Oklahoma Community Members

Valerie Allen (Oklahoma City, OK)
Bridgett Barton (Moore, OK)
Rev. Glen Bays, Honorably Retired, Presbytery of Cimarron, Presbyterian Church* (Stillwater, OK)
Jeff Bledso (Oklahoma City, OK)
Adrienne Brune (Oklahoma City, OK)
Mary Beth Chapman, J.D., Bruehl and Chapman, P.C. (Norman, OK)
Sandra F. Childers (Oklahoma City, OK)
Laura D. Clark, M.A. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Anne Collins (Stillwater, OK)
Rosa Conner (Oklahoma City, OK)
Margaret Cox (Oklahoma City, OK)
Julee Coyle (Oklahoma City, OK)
Lee Criswell (Oklahoma City, OK)
Cassie Crouch (Oklahoma City, OK)
Ron Cummings, Ph.D. (Norman, OK)
Mayumi Dawson (Oklahoma City, OK)
Terry Dennison (Oklahoma City, OK)
Ron duBois (Stillwater, OK)
Thurma Fiegel (Oklahoma City, OK)
Anita S. Fream, C.E.O. Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, OK)
Robert Fuxa (Oklahoma City, OK)
Bonnie Gatewood (Oklahoma City, OK)
Bill Gore (Oklahoma City, OK)
Susan Graves, Executive Director, Communities Foundation* (Oklahoma City, OK)
Martha Hardwick, J.D., (Tulsa, OK)
Colata Harlan (Oklahoma City, OK)
Claudia J. Hatfield (Oklahoma City, OK)
Catalina Herrerias, M.S.W., Ph.D (Norman, OK)
Elaine Hobson, Oklahoma Women’s Network, (Lexington, OK)
Rita B. Holder (Choctaw, OK)
Martha Kendall Holmes, M.S.W., A.C.S.W., Executive Director of National Association of Social Workers- Oklahoma Chapter (Oklahoma City, OK)
Alana Hulen (Oklahoma City, OK)
Vicki Hunt (Oklahoma City, OK)
Sandy Ingraham, J.D., M.S.W., Ingraham & Associates, PLLC (McLoud, OK)
Farshid Jahanshahi, Adjunct Instructor of Sociology, Oklahoma State University* (Stillwater,
OK)
Danne Johnson (Oklahoma City, OK)
Laurie W. Jones, J.D., Oklahoma City University School of Law*(Oklahoma City, OK)
Hilary Kitz (Tulsa, OK)
Helen Kutz (Norman, OK)
Linda H. Larason, Child Advocate (Oklahoma City, OK)
Donna Lawrence (Oklahoma City, OK)
Rebecca Mannel (Oklahoma City, OK)
Judith Maute, J.D., L.L.M., William J. Alley Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma
College of Law* (Norman, OK)
Diana D. McCalment (Depew, OK)
Stephen Melsch, L.P.C. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Sally Mock (Oklahoma City, OK)
Marilyn Murrell (Arcadia, OK)
Ruth K. Nelson (Tulsa, OK)
Janice L. Oak (Norman, OK)
Maribel Orquiz (Oklahoma City, OK)
Heidi Osborn (Oklahoma City, OK)
Mary E. Overall (Oklahoma City, OK)
Hannah Owen (Yukon, OK)
Keri Parks (Oklahoma City, OK)
Amelia Pepper (Norman, OK)
Kimberly M. Richey (Bethany, OK)
Pat Rigler (Edmond, OK)
Lesley Rimmel, Ph.D, Professor, Oklahoma State University* (Stillwater, OK)
Haley Ritter (Yukon, OK)
Nina Rowland, Ingraham & Associates, PLLC (McLoud, OK)
Barbara Santee, M.P.H., M.P.S.S., Oklahoma Reproductive Health Coalition* (Tulsa, OK)
Norma Sapp (Norman, OK)
Katherine Scheirman (Oklahoma City, OK)
Linda Scoggins, J.D. (Oklahoma City, OK)
Darla Shelden (Oklahoma City, OK)
Deborah Shinn, Ph.D, (Oklahoma City, OK)
Valerie Simmons (Oklahoma City, OK)
Linda Skorodin (Stillwater, OK)
Alicia J. Smith (Oklahoma City, OK)
Cheryl Smith (Oklahoma City, OK)
Tamara Smith, DVM (Jones, OK)
Robert T. Stapleton (Oklahoma City, OK)
Wanda Jo Stapleton (Oklahoma City, OK)
Linda Stone (Norman, OK)
Tara Tabatabbaie, Ph.D, American Constitution Society, OCU Chapter (Norman, OK)
Robbie L. Tittle (Oklahoma City, OK)
Jennifer Tucker Thurman (Oklahoma City, OK)
Deborah Tussey (Oklahoma City, OK)
Lequita Visor (Oklahoma City, OK)
Tim Wagner (Yukon, OK)
Kathleen Waits, J.D., Professor of Law, University of Tulsa College of Law* (Tulsa, OK)
Kathleen Wallace (Oklahoma City, OK)
Jean S. Warner, Oklahoma Women’s Network (Oklahoma City, OK)
Renate Wiggin (Oklahoma City, OK)
James Wilcox (Oklahoma City, OK)
Linda K. Winton (Oklahoma City, OK)
Christine O. Woodworth (Oklahoma City, OK)
Joy M. Yeats (Oklahoma City, OK)

* Organization for identification purposes only