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Shocking case

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Stillbirth leads to prison term

It is undeniable that Theresa Lee Hernandez has no business being a mother. The 31-year-old Oklahoma City woman has had five children, all of whom were removed from her custody because of criminal activity and drug use. But is a 15-year prison sentence for delivering a stillborn baby while using drugs the proper course for dealing with this woman's problems? Hernandez entered a guilty plea in September to the second-degree murder charge brought by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who alleged that methamphetamine use played a role in the stillbirth. She originally had been charged with first-degree murder by the previous district attorney. The case has elicited numerous responses from medical and child-welfare advocacy groups, which have argued there is no medical evidence meth use causes stillbirths. Advocates also express concern such a sentence will deter women with substance-abuse problems from seeking help. Prater defended his decision to prosecute, saying he felt she should be "held accountable for her actions." He has said that Hernandez had numerous opportu nities to undergo drug treatment in the past but continued to abuse drugs. He also has argued that there is evidence her meth use contributed to the stillbirth, pointing to a medical examiner's report calling the death a homicide and the cause acute methamphetamine intoxication. Dr. Dana Stone, an Oklahoma City doctor and the state chair for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, sees the case differently. She said there are no studies that show a causal link between meth use and stillbirth. "Nobody is winning with this type of prosecution," Stone said. "We're holding a woman accountable for something that we can't even prove was the demise of her fetus. It's treating a medical issue as a criminal one." Theresa Hernandez's behavior is shocking, even abhorrent to most people. Her drug problem is obviously serious and she undoubtedly needs intensive treatment. But a 15-year sentence for an alleged crime that she surely did not intend to commit will almost certainly result in more tragedies. Oklahoma has sent the nation a message that addicted women should go into hiding rather than into treatment.

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