A new Utah law could charge women with homicide if they miscarry, making women's rights advocates concerned that women will be brought up on murder charges for drinking, failing to wear a seatbelt, or falling down the stairs.
The bill passed Utah's state legislature last Thursday and still needs final approval by the governor, but it continues to gain attention this week for its unusually restrictive language. It doesn't address legal abortion, but allows punishment up to life in prison for an "intentional, knowing, or reckless act" that leads to a miscarriage or abortion without a doctor's supervision. Especially concerning to some Utah Democrats and many women's rights activists is the word "reckless" — writing for RH Reality Check, Rachel Larris says,
Using the legal standard of "reckless behavior" all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn't intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution.
Women might also make themselves open to prosecution if they failed to wear a seatbelt and got in a car accident, if they stayed with an abusive partner, or even if they fell down the stairs, like a woman in Iowa who found herself jailed on suspicion of "attempted feticide." This woman eventually got off only because she wasn't yet in her third trimester — but unlike Iowa's feticide law, Utah's new bill would apply throughout pregnancy. Given that 15-20% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, 80% of those in the first trimester, Utah could have a lot of work ahead. Dan Savage writes,
If every miscarriage is a potential homicide, how does Utah avoid launching a criminal investigation every time a woman has a miscarriage? [...] And how is Utah supposed to know when a pregnant woman has had a miscarriage? You're going to have to create some sort of pregnancy registry to keep track of all those fetuses, Utah. Perhaps you could start issuing "conception certificates" to women who get pregnant? And then, if there isn't a baby within nine months of the issuance of a conception certificate, the woman could be hauled in for questioning and she could be indicted for criminal homicide if it's determined that she intentionally or accidentally induced a miscarriage.
Of course, Utah probably isn't going to create such a registry, but its new legislation is striking for the way it targets women themselves, as opposed to abortion providers. Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, says, "For all these years the anti-choice movement has said ‘we want to outlaw abortion, not put women in jail, but what this law says is ‘no, we really want to put women in jail.'" And Jill of Feministe asks why, if anti-choice advocates are so concerned about miscarried fetuses, they aren't "trying to find a cure for the close to 50 percent of fertilized eggs that naturally don't implant, and are flushed out of the woman's body." Her answer: "the concern here isn't really about fetuses or life or any of that. It's about punishing women."
Utah Bill Would Criminalize Miscarriage [Feministe]
Utah Bill Criminalizes Miscarriage [RH Reality Check]
Measure On Illegal Abortions Heads To Governor [Salt Lake Tribune]
When Miscarriages Are a Crime... [Slog]