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Alabama Woman Jailed for “Fetal Endangerment” Sues After She Was Forced to Give Birth Alone in Jail Shower

Among the worst places to put a pregnant woman, a jail cell ranks fairly high. Yet that’s exactly where Ashley Caswell found herself—jailed in Alabama’s Etowah County for “fetal endangerment.” Ultimately she was forced to give birth alone in a jail shower, according to a complaint she filed on October 13, 2023.

It’s unclear who ratted her out when Caswell was arrested in March 2021 for allegedly endangering her unborn fetus with meth use. Just two months pregnant at the time, Caswell spent the next seven months behind bars, where her complaint alleges that she was denied regular prenatal visits and forced to sleep on a floor mat—despite a history of hypertension and abnormal pap smears that put her pregnancy at high risk.

When her water broke in October 2021, jailers allegedly told her to “stop screaming” and “sleep it off,” because she needed to “wait until Monday” before they took her to a hospital. By the time that happened two days later, she had endured a 12-hour labor with nothing more than Tylenol, nearly bleeding to death before giving birth alone, standing in the jail shower.

With the aid of attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Caswell sued the county and Sheriff Jonathon Horton in federal court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleging jail staff subsequently passed her baby around—while still attached to her umbilical cord—and posed for smartphone camera photos. Calling it “one of the most terrifying experiences of my life,” Caswell said she feared “I’d lose my baby, my life, and never see my other kids again.”

She didn’t die, but she got the rest right. After giving birth, she was convicted of fetal endangerment and sent to state prison for 15 years. But first she was returned to the jail, where she was allegedly denied even ibuprofen. Jailers also refused her a breast pump, she said, as well as sanitary pads for postpartum bleeding, leaving her atop a mat on her cell floor with just a ripped-up tee-shirt to soak up the blood.

Emma Ross, another attorney working on her case with Pregnancy Justice in New York City, decried the “sheer level of callousness here and complete disregard for human suffering.” The county has arrested 257 pregnant women for fetal endangerment since 2015. It threatened even more with jail if they didn’t qualify for rehab, before dropping that as a condition of pretrial release, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.17.] Alabama accounts for nearly half—46.5%—of all pregnancy criminalization arrests tallied by Roth’s group since 2006.

Caswell is also represented by attorneys from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York City and Washington, D.C. See: Caswell v. Horton, USDC (N.D. Ala.), Case No. 4:23-cv-01380.  


Additional sources: Birmingham News, The Guardian, Washington Post

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Related legal case

Caswell v. Horton