Locked up for Being Pregnant and HIV-Positive

I'm going to do things a little backwards here... Ordinarily, I would give you what is called a time served sentence, and...your time in prison would effectively end today....[However] I'm inclined to keep you in jail, given your medical condition and the medical condition for your child, to prevent your child from being born HIV positive. And my inclination is to sentence you until September 15, which is a time after your due date, so that you can continue to receive the necessary medicine up to the time of your delivery.

The Honorable John A. Woodcock, Jr., District Court of Maine, May 14, 2009

And with that, a federal district court in Maine sentenced Q.T. to jail for no other reason than that she was pregnant and HIV-positive. Never mind that, as the court was aware, Q.T. had secured access to the care she needed at a nearby community center that provides HIV and AIDS services; never mind that she was entitled to immediate release under the sentencing guidelines; and never mind that the government — the prosecutors who had charged Q.T. in the first place — objected to increasing Q.T.'s sentence beyond time served.

These facts did not deter Judge Woodcock. Over the objections of both the defense and the prosecution, he sentenced Q.T. to an additional four months in jail followed by two years of supervised release. Despite the judge's insistence that his harsh sentence was "not in any way to punish her; it's the opposite," essentially the court punished Q.T. for being pregnant and HIV-positive.

When advocates, including the ACLU and the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU), got wind of the situation, we stepped in on behalf of Q.T. We are pleased to report that on June 15, a broad-based coalition, including National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and Project Unshackled of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, helped secure Q.T. release from jail on bail while she appeals her sentence. But the fight is not over, the ACLU and MCLU are currently working to reverse the sentence entirely and ensure that Q.T. cannot be returned to jail simply because she is pregnant and living with HIV. We will keep you updated as the case moves forward.

Zach Heiden, Maine Civil Liberties Union, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Rose Saxe, ACLU AIDS Project

Add a comment (5)
Read the Terms of Use


It's sad what people are capable of when they are drunk with power.
Personaly I think all cops,prosecuters and judges should be obliged to spend a day in prison themselves so that they can know that prison time should not be given out without a good reason.


This is a truly scary precidence. It's bad enough they are putting some of these people on lists, but to lock someone up just for being pregnant and HIV positive is not right.

I read some of the horror stories of some of the activists, some who were preganant and feared for their lives and that of their children, and they should not have to go through such things.

In my opinin it seems wrong, and it seems that it should be a moral imparative to prevent this from happening to these people.


I would like to know what the original offense was. I personally do not believe she should have been given the extra time. BUT I can understand it, being HIV or druggie you will have people screaming about the child and that the govt should have done something to protect the child. Is anyone keeping an eye on her? Making sure she is taking care of herself?

Since now it is the govt' responsibility to take care of the entire country is anyone checking?


These cases are really troubling to me. It seems the presumption is that obstetricians always know what is best for women and pregnancy. There really are legitimate concerns regarding many of the common interventions in pregnancy and the treatments for HIV, especially during pregnancy. Of course, even in the case of medical certainty, people have the right to say "no thanks" to medical care. In the case of honest medical uncertainty, people have the OBLIGATION to check it out and make a decision. Who cares more for a baby than the mother?

Nicole Wagas

Wow.. what a nice way to be a mother.

Sign Up for Breaking News