Utah Bill Criminalizes Miscarriages
Posted by Enkill_Eridos on February 27, 2010
By Rachel Larris, RH Reality Check
February 20, 2010 – 9:00am
A bill passed by the Utah House and Senate this week and waiting for the governor’s signature, will make it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage, and make induced abortion a crime in some instances.
According Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, what makes Utah’s proposed law unique is that it is specifically designed to be punitive toward pregnant women, not those who might assist or cause an illegal abortion or unintended miscarriage.
The bill passed by legislators amends Utah’s criminal statute to allow the state to charge a woman with criminal homicide for inducing a miscarriage or obtaining an illegal abortion. The basis for the law was a recent case in which a 17-year-old girl, who was seven months pregnant, paid a man $150 to beat her in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. Although the girl gave birth to a baby later given up for adoption, she was initially charged with attempted murder. However the charges were dropped because, at the time, under Utah state law a woman could not be prosecuted for attempting to arrange an abortion, lawful or unlawful.
The bill passed by the Utah legislature would change that. While the bill does not affect legally obtained abortions, it criminalizes any actions taken by women to induce a miscarriage or abortion outside of a doctor’s care, with penalties including up to life in prison.
“What is really radical and different about this statute is that all of the other states’ feticide laws are directed to third party attackers,” Paltrow explained. “[Other states’ feticide laws] were passed in response to a pregnant woman who has been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend. Utah’s law is directed to the woman herself and that’s what makes it different and dangerous.”
In addition to criminalizing an intentional attempt to induce a miscarriage or abortion, the bill also creates a standard that could make women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by “reckless” behavior.
Using the legal standard of “reckless behavior” all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn’t intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution.
“This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder,” says Missy Bird, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah. Bird says there are no exemptions in the bill for victims of domestic violence or for those who are substance abusers. The standard is so broad, Bird says, “there nothing in the bill to exempt a woman for not wearing her seatbelt who got into a car accident.”
Such a standard could even make falling down stairs a prosecutable event, such as the recent case in Iowa where a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs at her home was arrested under the suspicion she was trying to terminate her pregnancy.
“This statute and the standards chosen leave a large number of pregnant women vulnerable to arrest even though they have no intention of ending a pregnancy,” Paltrow said. “Whether or not the legislature intended this bill to become a tool for policing and punishing all pregnant women, if enacted this law would permit prosecution of a pregnant woman who stayed with her abusive husband because she was unable to leave. Not leaving would, under the ‘reckless’ standard, constitute conduct that consciously disregarded a substantial risk,” Paltrow explained.
While many states have fetal homicide laws most apply only in the third trimester. Utah’s bill would apply throughout the entirety of a woman’s pregnancy. Even first trimester miscarriages could become the basis for a murder trial.
Bird said she is also concerned that the law will drive pregnant women with substance abuse problems “underground;” afraid to seek treatment lest they have a miscarriage and be charged for murder. She said it directly reverses the attempts made, though a bill passed in 2008, to encourage pregnant women to seek treatment for addiction.
Paltrow added that the commonly thought belief that pregnant women who use drugs are engaging in behavior that is likely to cause a stillbirth or a miscarriage is wrong.
“Science now makes clear that drug use by pregnant women does not create unique risks for pregnant women, although it is likely that among those targeted for prosecutions by this statute will be women who go to term under drug usage,” she said.
The bill does exempt from prosecution fetal deaths due to failure to follow medical advice, accept treatment or refuse a cesarean section. Bird said this exemption was likely because of a 2004 case where a woman who was pregnant with twins was later charged with criminal homicide after one of the babies was stillborn, which the state deemed due to her refusal to have a cesarean section.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Utah worked together to “amend the hell out of the bill,” Bird said. One of their few accomplishments was at least dropping the legal standard of “negligence” from the bill, a much lower standard than “recklessness.”
Bird was shaken with emotion after the Senate vote. “I broke down and cried,” she admitted. “I normally never let these kind of [legislative] battles get to me.”
“What really sucks is that we had three supposed allies in the Senate, three [Democratic] women, who voted for the bill,” Bird said, adding she didn’t yet know why the three senators switched votes.
Marina Lowe is legislative and policy counsel for the ACLU of Utah. She worked in tandem with Bird on trying to derail or at least mitigate the worst aspects of the bill. Lowe says at this point she doesn’t know if there is a potential constitutional challenge to the law once it is signed by the governor.
But she points to cases like the one in Iowa as exactly the kind of situation that might arise once this law is put into place.
Paltrow says this bill puts a lie to the idea that the pro-life movement cares about women.
“For all these years the anti-choice movement has said ‘we want to outlaw abortion, not put women in jail, but what this law says is ‘no, we really want to put women in jail.'”
My apologies and two cents.
For one I am so very sorry to all of those who do not wish the abortion issue to be brought up yet again. But this is a story of a Civil Rights Violation. Let’s take a look at the law that pertains to this article shall we?
The cause of a miscarriage cannot always be determined. The most common known causes of miscarriage in the first third of pregnancy (1st trimester) are chromosomal abnormalities, collagen vascular disease (such as lupus), diabetes, other hormonal problems infection, and congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the uterus. Chromosomal abnormalities of the fetus are the most common cause of early miscarriages, including blighted ovum.
Chromosomes are microscopic components of every cell in the body that carry all of the genetic material that determine hair color, eye color, and our overall appearance and makeup. These chromosomes duplicate themselves and divide many times during the process of development, and there are numerous points along the way where a problem can occur. Certain genetic abnormalities are known to be more prevalent in couples that experience repeated pregnancy losses. These genetic traits can be screened for by blood tests prior to attempting to become pregnant. Half of the fetal tissue from 1st trimester miscarriages contain abnormal chromosomes. This number drops to 20% with 2nd trimester miscarriages. In other words, abnormal chromosomes are more common with 1st trimester than with 2nd trimester miscarriages. First trimester miscarriages are so very common that unless they occur more than once, they are not considered “abnormal” per se. They do not prompt further evaluation unless they occur more than once. In contrast, 2nd trimester miscarriages are more unusual, and therefore may trigger evaluation even after a first occurrence. It is therefore clear that causes of miscarriages seem to vary according to trimester.
Collagen vascular diseases are illnesses in which a person’s own immune system attacks their own organs. These diseases can be potentially very serious, either during or between pregnancies. In these diseases, a woman makes antibodies to her own body’s tissues. Examples of collagen vascular diseases associated with an increased risk of miscarriage are systemic lupus erythematosus, and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. Blood tests can confirm the presence of abnormal antibodies and are used to diagnose these conditions.
Diabetes generally can be well-managed during pregnancy, if a woman and her doctor work closely together. However, if the diabetes is insufficiently controlled, not only is the risk of miscarriages higher, but the baby can have major birth defects. Other problems can also occur in relation to diabetes during pregnancy. Good control of blood sugars during pregnancy is very important.
Hormonal factors may be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, including Cushing’s Syndrome, thyroid disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome. It has also been suggested that inadequate function of the corpus luteum in the ovary (which produced progesterone necessary for maintenance of the very early stages of pregnancy) may lead to miscarriage. Termed luteal phase defect, this is a controversial issue, since several studies have not supported the theory of luteal phase defect as a cause of pregnancy loss.
Maternal infection with a large number of different organisms has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. Fetal or placental infection by the offending organism then leads to pregnancy loss. Examples of infections that have been associated with miscarriage include infections by Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii, parvovirus B19, rubella, herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Abnormal anatomy of the uterus can also cause miscarriages. In some women there can be a tissue bridge (uterine septum), that acts like a partial wall dividing the uterine cavity into sections. The septum usually has a very poor blood supply, and is not well suited for placental attachment and growth. Therefore, an embryo implanting on the septum would be at increased risk of miscarriage.
Other structural abnormalities can result from benign growths in the uterus called fibroids. Fibroid tumors (leiomyomata) are benign growths of muscle cells in the uterus. While most fibroid tumors do not cause miscarriages, (in fact, they are a rare cause of infertility), some can interfere with the embryo implantation and the embryo’s blood supply, thereby causing miscarriage.
Invasive surgical procedures in the uterus, such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, also slightly increase the risk of miscarriage.
There are actual valid medical reasons for invasive surgical procedures in the uterus.
They left a huge hole in this bill. In the State of Florida they actually define the terms in the laws themselves. I actually posted the full Florida State abortion law once, and it did have a glossary of terms in it. The word reckless can mean many things. In order to prove reckless acts the State of Utah would have to violate the womans Civil and Privacy Rights. Would the State of Utah concider Sex while Pregnant as a “reckless” act?(Which really is a fence topic. Some OB/GYN’s say its okay and some say don’t. Since an average penis does not actually penetrate into the uterus I would say it is unlikely..) Also a patients blood could attack a fetus if the woman isn’t given a shot. It depends on if the woman is RH positive or not. If you accidently become pregnant and get a miscarriage because of your blood would that be reckless? Even if you didn’t know you were pregnant?
In short a huge win for Pro-Life Conservatives who obviously think Civil Rights, is a bad thing. I AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR..THIS IS WHAT THE PRO-LIFE SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS WANTED ALL ALONG.
more articles on the same topic:
Utah’s Anti-Abortion Law Criticism:
Before Kay starts ranting about me being left..I couldn’t find any commentary on pro life blogs and webpages that I know of about this subject.