Last month, Utah sought to criminalize a woman's "reckless act" that led to miscarriage. Now the governor has signed a bill designating "intentional or knowing" miscarriage as criminal homicide — which really isn't much better.
Utah HB 462, which Gov. Gary Herbert signed Monday, stipulates that a woman can be charged with homicide for "the death of her unborn child" unless that death qualifies as a legal abortion, defined as "a medical procedure carried out by a physician or through a substance used under the direction of a physician." In response to criticisms that the original bill could have sent a woman to prison for life for staying in an abusive relationship or falling down the stairs, legislators added the caveats that a woman may not be prosecuted if the death of her fetus "is caused by a criminally negligent or reckless act of the woman" or "is not caused by an intentional or knowing act of the woman." So now a woman has to intentionally induce her own miscarriage in order to go to prison.
Why is this so bad? Utah's not the only state to criminalize self-induced abortion (according to the Times, Delaware and New York do as well), but this high-profile law could encourage other states to follow suit. And as Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women notes in the Huffington Post, the law could make women who suffer miscarriages targets for investigation even without the "reckless" language. She writes, "Because everything a pregnant woman does or does not do can affect pregnancy outcome, it is hard to come up with an example of a law that could be applied only to women who "truly" intend to end their pregnancies while ensuring that pregnant women who do not intend to terminate their pregnancies or risk harm to their fetuses are protected from police investigation, interrogation, arrest, and prosecution."
But perhaps the worst thing about the law is that it subjects to imprisonment women who were probably in dire straits to begin with (as was the 17-year-old who inadvertently inspired the bill by paying someone to beat her into miscarriage). Samhita of Feministing says it best: "Instead of recognizing that it could only be the most oppressive circumstances that would lead a young woman to have someone beat her in hopes of inducing a miscarriage, and therefore creating legislation that protects young women, they legislate against women."
Guv Signs Revised Abortion Bill [Salt Lake Tribune]
Utah Criminalizes Illegal Abortion Charging Criminal Homicide. [Feministing]
Utah Continues Reckless Efforts To Lock-Up Pregnant Women [Huffington Post]
H.B. 462 [Utah State Legislature]