After being approved by a majority of Utah’s House and Senate, Governor Gary R. Herbert must decide whether or not to sign into law a statute criminalizing illegal abortions. This legislation would give significant powers to prosecutors to inquire about a woman’s intentions toward her unborn child and ultimately give the state the right to question the intent and responsibility of a woman’s reproductive decisions.
If enacted, this law could also potentially throw into question every miscarriage in Utah. Driving accidents may give state authorities reason to hold women liable for criminally ignoring the safety of her fetus. A law that sits so clearly in the eye of the beholder is clearly unacceptable. The New York Times reports that laws in other states that had previously been used primarily to create additional penalties when a pregnant woman is killed or assaulted may now be used to punish women.
Just last month in Iowa, for example, a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs at home confided to emergency workers that she was not sure she really wanted to have her child. Though the woman did not immediately miscarry from the fall, she was arrested anyway under a state law that makes it criminal to harm a fetus. She was released after two days in jail, and the charges were dropped.
This bill gives prosecutors a lot of discretion to determine what role a woman had in any loss of a fetus and to what degree it was “intentional, knowing, or reckless.” Holding people culpable for things they do on purpose is an acceptable role of our legal system, but this is merely a misguided attempt to further restrict abortion laws and punish the women who are desperate to end their pregnancies – like the unnamed 17-year-old girl in eastern Utah that paid a man $150 to beat her up hoping to induce a miscarriage last May.
It is incredible that, through their votes, 59 members of the Utah State House and 24 Utah State Senate members found themselves compelled to speak for an unborn child, but almost no one is speaking for the targeted women. As Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, asks in the Times article, “Why would a young woman get to a point to such desperation that she would invite violence against herself? Anybody that desperate is not going to be deterred by this statute.”