On Friday, the Guardian published a report tracking five different states—Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Arkansas—that are currently considering legislation to prosecute abortion as homicide.
The bills come despite anti-abortion activists and politicians’ (obviously) empty promises that they would govern with compassion in the post-Roe v. Wade era. They wielded posters promising to adopt babies; claimed to support a more robust social safety net; lied about the real reason they direct people to get care at crisis pregnancy centers.
This wave of bills marks a sharp reversal from most legislation, which has focused exclusively on punishing abortion providers rather than patients. Some of the bills would explicitly establish fetal personhood and even “remove provisions in the law” that explicitly protect pregnant people from criminalization, the Guardian noted. Oklahoma’s bill would cross out a section in the state legal code that prohibits “charging or conviction of a woman with any criminal offense in the death of her own unborn child.”
These bills say the quiet part out loud: Banning abortion is about punishment and state control. The natural conclusion is prosecution, no matter how many gentle, soft-spoken assurances we get from Republican leaders. In addition to these bills, earlier this month, legislators South Carolina introduced a separate bill that would punish people who have abortions with the death penalty. This is horrifying—but is also the “logical” endgame of equating abortion with murder, if you support capital punishment. It’s this very line of thinking that gets abortion providers and clinic workers killed by anti-abortion protesters. In Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, homicide is punishable with the death penalty.
These proposed bills to prosecute abortion as homicide include stated exceptions and stipulations, including that people whose “unborn babies” “die” “naturally” via miscarriage or pregnancy complications shouldn’t be prosecuted. Yet prosecution for miscarriages already happens—it always has. Pregnancy Justice has tracked nearly 2,000 cases of people facing criminal charges for miscarriages, stillbirths, and self-managed abortion since 1973 (the year of the Roe ruling); the majority of those cases are from the last 20 years. Many people have faced charges like fetal homicide and endangerment for incidents ranging from miscarriage due to substance use, to “improperly” disposing of fetal remains from a stillbirth, or even buying abortion pills online.
The wave of homicide bills also explicitly targets medication abortion, amid an ongoing federal lawsuit threatening to strip the mifepristone abortion pill of Food and Drug Administration approval, contrary to the input of all medical experts. Medication abortion can’t be distinguished from natural miscarriage, meaning all of these bills would treat people who miscarry as criminal suspects, too.
These proposed measures do damage whether or not they’re ultimately signed into law: They further smear abortion as violent and criminal in the public consciousness, increasing the likelihood that pregnant people are reported to the police, and feeding local police departments further misinformation about pregnancy and abortion, thus worsening the risk of arrest for people having miscarriages or getting abortions. In more and more states, legislators want to force pregnant people who don’t want to or can’t be pregnant to choose between being left to die from untreated pregnancy complications, or facing homicide charges for seeking abortion care.