‘Prosecution in Search of a Theory’: Court Documents Raise Questions About Case Against Latice Fisher

Dr. Leah Torres, an OB/GYN who provides reproductive health care, told Rewire that the case appeared to be “wrought with invasion of privacy.”

[Photo: Woman in a labor room.]
Criminalization of self-induced abortion does not reduce abortion or unintended pregnancy, but increases health risks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Shutterstock

Advocates continue to raise concerns about a Mississippi woman charged with second-degree murder for the death of her newborn, after court documents revealed new details about the case.

Latice Fisher, 32, was indicted for second-degree murder by an Oktibbeha County grand jury. Prosecutors claim she caused the death of the newborn. Fisher pleaded not guilty to the charges on January 31. She remains in custody in the Oktibbeha County Jail with bond set at $100,000.

“This is a prosecution in search of a theory, in search of justification for locking up a hardworking mother of three,” Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told Rewire.

The documents were filed by prosecutors as a part of request to retain the services of a toxicologist and a specialist in fetal medicine and obstetrics to determine the effects of misoprostol on a late-stage pregnancy and to testify about how the “use of the abortion pill” during a late-stage pregnancy affected the fetus.

Prosecutors claim that Fisher told investigators she “didn’t want any more kids, that she couldn’t afford any more kids, and that she simply couldn’t deal with being pregnant again.” Prosecutors who reviewed Fisher’s cell phone data say they found internet searches for terms including “buy abortion pills.”

Dr. Leah Torres, a Utah-based OB/GYN who provides abortion and reproductive health care, told Rewire that the case appeared to be “wrought with invasion of privacy,” and expressed concerns with conclusions made by prosecutors.

“Using the ‘abortion pill’ most likely would not have caused in utero death,” Torres said. “Using [misoprostol] most likely would have cause[d] labor to begin, and fetuses can die during labor if not monitored.”

Emergency medical technicians (EMT) responded to a 911 call on April 28, 2017. They arrived at Fisher’s home and found the fetus in the toilet “covered with feces and blood” with the umbilical cord attached, according to the documents.

The EMT removed the baby from the toilet and estimated the baby “appeared to be greater than 35 weeks in gestation, and that it weighed approximately six pounds.” The baby had no heartbeat and was blue, according to the documents.

The autopsy conducted by the Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that there was “no identifiable evidence of external or internal traumatic injury” that would have contributed to the death, and that the baby died due to “asphyxiation, mostly likely due to a combination of positional asphyxia and mechanical asphyxia.”

“The baby may very well have died during the labor process, before it was delivered outside of her body,” Torres said. “Laboring in a hospital is safer than laboring at home for this very reason, yet we don’t arrest midwives when they bring in patients with dead fetuses who were laboring at home.”

Advocates have compared Fisher’s case to other cases where women have been criminally charged for pregnancy outcomes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) this year published a statement opposing the criminalization of self-induced abortion and the prosecution of a person for conduct alleged to have harmed their fetus.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author of the ACOG statement, said criminalization does not reduce abortion or unintended pregnancy, but increases health risks. “Criminalization of self-abortion may increase risks for women by deterring them from seeking needed medical care after a self-abortion attempt,” Grossman said.