Punishing pregnant women tops Utah state agenda

The Utah state legislature passed a bill recently that could make it illegal for a woman to have a miscarriage.

The bill, currently on the Republican governor’s desk awaiting his signature, came as a reaction to a bizarre and sad incident in the state. A pregnant 17-year-old hired a man to beat her up so she would have a miscarriage. The man kicked her repeatedly in the stomach and was arrested for the assault. The 17-year-old did not have a miscarriage, but gave birth to a health baby who was adopted by a couple.

A sad situation indeed, many would say, and then they’d turn around and ask, “But is it necessary to spend taxpayer dollars on writing a law that would criminalize miscarriage, and even pregnancy?”

With a possible environmental catastrophe concerning depleted uranium from a government cleanup in South Carolina being buried in Utah, Salt Lake City facing a “barren, bleeding and bleak” budget, a half a dozen water companies not compliant with state conservation law, public education getting slashed and jobless rates, while lower than the national average, still a worry, it would seem that Utah lawmakers would be too busy with other issues.

Apparently, they aren’t too busy to criminalize pregnant women. All pregnancies carry the risk of miscarriage, from a wide range of causes, genetic and environmental, and often the cause simply can’t be determined.

The bill, if signed into law, would mean any pregnant woman who miscarries could be a murder suspect. The bill says if the woman behaves in an “intentional, knowing or reckless” way as to commit a miscarriage (abortion is legal in Utah, but inducing a miscarriage is seen as an illegal abortion) she could be sent to prison for life for criminal homicide.

What would reckless be? Many have voiced concern about that definition, and who will define it.

The ACLU, in a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert urging him to veto the bill, says, “knowing” or “reckless” could mean not wearing a seat belt in a car and getting in an accident that results in miscarriage. Just about anything could be defined as reckless by a prosecutor.

“Prosecutors have a lot of discretion, and miscarriage is a sad but common event in connection with pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, as reported in The New York Times.  “This bill would cast suspicion, potentially, on every single miscarriage.”

Moreover, if a woman has a substance abuse problem, or is in an abusive situation, and has a miscarriage, it will prevent her from getting the help she needs, health care and human rights groups say.

National Advocates For Pregnant Women, a New York-based human rights group says, “Threatening pregnant women with arrest is bad for babies. Babies have the best birth outcomes when their mothers are not afraid to come in for health care, not afraid to talk honestly to their health care providers, and when they can find the right kind of help for their problems.

“This is one reason why every medical group in the country to address the issue, including the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics, opposes prosecution of pregnant women.”

If the Utah bill had already been law, that desperate 17-year-old, who wound up having a healthy baby, would have been arrested, putting that baby at risk, according to the experts.

Readers can sign a petition to the governor urging him to veto the H.B. 12 “criminal homicide” bill.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/ / CC BY-SA 2.0



Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano had been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor, and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by the International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women, and Illinois Woman Press Association.