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Miscarriage Isn't Murder

Christine Taylor was charged with fetal homicide because she fell down the stairs while pregnant



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War on Women

But some extremists want to treat it that way.

Birth-control pill

The combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), often referred to as the birth-control pill or colloquially as "the pill", is a birth control method that includes a combination of an estrogen (estradiol) and a progestogen (progestin). When taken by mouth every day, these pills inhibit female fertility. | Photo: Getty | Link | Birth-control Pill, Abortion, Contraception, Controversy, Women's Rights,

But some extremists want to treat it that way.

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[Comments] Around half of all fertilized eggs in human women miscarry. Among women who know they're pregnant, the miscarriage rate is 15 to 20 percent. In most cases miscarriage isn't caused by anything the women did.

So I'd say a miscarriage isn't murder. Not even close. Yet in the eyes of some anti-abortion politicians and prosecutors, having a miscarriage is like standing around with a loaded gun over a corpse: it's too damn suspicious to ignore.

As I've mentioned before both Virginia and Georgia legislators in the past few years have introduced bills calling for police reports or investigations when a woman has a miscarriage. Over in Iowa, in 2010, Christine Taylor was charged with fetal homicide because she fell down the stairs while pregnant with her third child.

Taylor says she told the nurse after the fall that she'd been thinking about aborting or adopting. The nurse told police a different version, that Taylor confessed to throwing herself down the stairs to cause a miscarriage. Either way, the state filed charges, only to drop them because the fetus wasn't far enough along for the fetal homicide law to kick in.

I'd like to consider that a fluke case that would never happen again, but I'm not so sure. Even without a miscarriage involved, women have been arrested and charged for painting while pregnant (fumes could hurt the child!), drinking while pregnant and smoking while pregnant. A woman in Florida who disagreed with her ob/gyn's instructions to stay off her feet was forcibly confined to a hospital bed. A woman in Utah was charged with murder after she rejected her doctor's recommendation to get a C-section (one of her twins was born dead).

Throw in a miscarriage and it's not surprising some people find women even more suspicious and deserving of punishment. Particularly to some of the activisits who believe abortion is murder (and that women should die for it). Cops investigate when kids have fatal accidents, right? And a fetus is a child, right? So doesn't that make miscarriages a possible murder? How can the cops not look into it?

Even people who don't think the fetus is the same as a baby often judge pregnant women harshly. Isn't a mother supposed to put her children before everything, even herself? Then how can she possibly justify drinking that wine, smoking that cigarette, eating that junk food? As many people don't realize how routine miscarriages are, it's easy to assume the mother most have done something to make it happen. Therefore, if someone had only stopped her, the baby would have turned out fine.

From there it's only a small step (as those examples I list above show) to deciding that if a woman's doing something that somebody thinks might possibly hurt the baby, that somebody has an obligation to take action. And the action is never, say, providing better pre-natal care or education for the poor or better medical services for mothers in prison. For some people, punishing is just more satisfying.

The most extreme outcome of this kind of thinking would be a forced-birth regime like El Salvador. Abortion is completely illegal there, even if delivering the baby is guaranteed to kill the mother. Even in ectopic pregnancies--no chance of the fetus surviving, major health risks for the mother--doctors can't operate until the fetus is officially dead. Police investigate miscarriages and some women go to jail for having one.

I doubt well become that bad (I hope I'm right) but we don't have to be to put women through hell. Every woman who gets arrested because she did something trivial while pregnant gets a little of that hell. Cases like Taylor's can leave other women terrified that if they talk openly with their doctor, whatever they say will be used against them.

I used to think Roe vs.Wade was a good compromise, treating a glob of cells differently from an almost-born baby. I no longer think so. Because as long as we give the fetus any rights, apparently some people are convinced the mother can't have any.


Fraser Sherman

Fraser Sherman, : Having graduated college with a degree in biology, no interest in grad school, and no interest in a science career, Fraser Sherman decided he’d try writing. It turned out he liked it. And he was even reasonably good at it. Over the next couple of decades, he sold articles to Newsweek, The Writer, Dragon Magazine (yes he played D&D. Want to make something out of it?), Air & Space and more specialized markets such as Painting and Wallcovering and Gulf Coast Condo Owner. Because he wanted... (more...)