28 June 2011

When miscarriage is murder

As I've explained a few times, most recently in March, pregnancy makes an American woman a second-class citizen. Pregnancy -- planned or unintentional -- is a life-threatening condition. Ordinarily, a person who takes on a life-threatening condition is never compelled by law to continue with that condition if they don't want to. The sole exception is when the life-threatening condition is pregnancy. Although it is always less risky at any stage of a pregnancy to terminate it rather than to complete it with childbirth, a pregnant woman under most circumstances does not have a full, total, unimpeded right to exit from her life-threatening condition without some state involvement.

This problem has been manifesting itself lately with the scary trend of women who suffer miscarriages but then are charged with murder. Lynn Paltrow restates my point, speaking for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women:
Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws. It's turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights.
Women who have miscarried are being targetted with "chemical endangerment" laws written to address children in meth lab homes (Alabama) or with "fetal homicide" statutes (38 states) written to address domestic violence, not stillbirths (South Carolina).

Miscarriages happen. They happen for no reason, or they happen because a woman suffered some physical trauma, or they happen because a woman took a drug, legal or illegal. They happen before implantation of the conceptus, they happen shortly after implantation, they happen in the first trimester, and they happen later. They are largely unpredictable and accidental, and in fact they're devilishly hard to induce outside of a clinical abortion. They happen in wanted pregnancies and unintentional pregnancies. Sometimes they half-happen; that is, one of two twins miscarries, but the other is successfully carried to term (that was my experience). They are, by definition, not murder.

When abortion is murder, then every stillbirth is a crime scene. When miscarriage is a homicide, then every menstrual period is a crime scene, because every time an ovulation does not result in a pregnancy, it is very possible that conception happened but implantation did not. That is a miscarriage; when these laws are enacted, enforcement of the law will require some kind of monitoring. Proposed language in Georgia carves out an exception from its fetal homicide law for miscarriages where "there is no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" (Ga. General Assembly). But a period starts when a pregnancy fails to occur, and any period may indicate a very early miscarriage. How is this to be policed? When abortion is murder, every pregnant woman is a suspect until she enters the labor and delivery room. When miscarriage is murder, every woman is simply a suspect.

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