Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the forced-birth movement never quits...,

Alternet | On Thursday, a Utah legislator withdrew a bill that would have allowed sentences of up to life in prison for a woman who experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth as a result of her “reckless” behavior. This move has been attributed to a “firestorm” of opposition. Almost immediately, however, Utah legislators revised the bill to exempt women who commit reckless acts but to permit the prosecution of women who commit “knowing” acts that may result in stillbirths and miscarriages from the earliest stages of pregnancy.

What does this mean? Under this bill, pregnant women who “know” that their cancer medications or other prescription medications could risk harm or cause pregnancy loss could still be arrested. Pregnant women who stay with abusive husbands who they “know” to be angry about the pregnancy could still be arrested under this law. Pregnant women who continue working in jobs they “know” pose hazards to their pregnancies could still be arrested under the law. And even pregnant women who “know” from reading the side of their cigarette packages that smoking is hazardous to their pregnancies could be arrested under this law.

Representative Wimmer, the bill’s sponsor, has assured critics that the bill would only be applied “in the most glaring of cases.” But whatever his intention, cases from around the country demonstrate that once law enforcement officials have the discretion to arrest, and judges have the opportunity to interpret the law, legislators no longer have control. In fact there have already been cases where government officials seeking to protect the “unborn” have sought to keep pregnant women from obtaining cancer treatment.

Moreover, sending the message that what women “know” and do while pregnant may be a crime also influences how doctors and nurses treat pregnant women. They become less likely to help women and more likely to judge them. In Iowa, it was a health care provider who called the police when a distraught pregnant woman sought help after she fell down a flight of stairs. The young woman was arrested for “attempted feticide.” The police eventually withdrew the charge but only after this young mother had been taken into custody, spent several days in jail and several weeks terrified about what was going to happen next.