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Locked up for Being Pregnant and HIV-Positive

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas,
Deputy Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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June 17, 2009

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

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