Written by Farah Diaz-Tello for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Pill bottle

How two pain pills and the drug war cost a woman her life.

I don’t like war metaphor. I prefer to think about reproductive justice advocacy in terms of healing and love. But when our nonsensical policies on drugs and reproductive health claim the lives of living, breathing people, it feels like a war.

Jamie Lynn Russell was 33 years old when she went to an emergency room in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma in such debilitating pain that she was unable to move. Because her excruciating pain prevented her from lying down for an examination, hospital staff labeled her “noncompliant,” and called the police. The police discovered that she had two pain pills that weren’t hers. Still in pain, she was released by the hospital as “fit to incarcerate,” arrested for drug possession, and taken to jail, where she died two hours later from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.

Two pain pills.

Much of the initial response to the case centered around the actions of the hospital, which likely amount to malpractice. But we must avoid making the mistake that the hospital did: looking at individual actions when they are merely symptoms of deeper, deadlier problems.

Jamie’s needless death shows us where our priorities lie, misplaced: chasing down minor drug offenders in service of a failed war on drugs is more important that human life and dignity; women’s health is not taken seriously and “noncompliance” is cause for punishment. The tragedy of her death once again disproves the myth that women never need abortions and that “modern technology and science” have eliminated maternal mortality.

I hope that her family — and people across Oklahoma and the United States — will demand justice for Jamie so that she is not just another unnamed casualty of the many political and rhetorical wars waged on pregnant women.

Photo by Charles Williams and Dawn McIlvain Stahlreleased under a Creative Commons license.