Miscarriages should not be equated with murder

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

A bill that passed Utah’s state legislature on Thursday, Feb. 18 would charge a woman with murder following a miscarriage. As the bill waits to be finally approved by the governor, there are several important arguments that must be acknowledged so that this legislative motion never becomes a reality.

There is an outstanding question of agency here that is being ignored by the most poignant language of the bill: that women would be punished with up to a life sentence in prison for murder following an “intentional, knowing, or reckless act” without a doctor’s supervision that would lead to the termination of a pregnancy.

Regardless of how responsible a woman is, a murder charge is hardly the answer.

Yes — if you consider an unborn child to be the same as a living, breathing human being, then you might equate actively causing the death of the unborn child to actively causing the death of any other person. But this is not an argument about when life begins. This is a question of agency, and even more an issue of privacy.

Somehow, the issue of an individual woman’s health has been broadcast on the public political stage.

Unless a person has a uterus and has been faced with either an unplanned, ill-timed, or failed pregnancy, it is impossible to judge what a person finding themselves in any of those three situations should or can do.

Even the term “reckless” is questionable. It is not the same as intentional. It is only the same in that the pregnant woman in question might not have intentionally or actively been protecting her unborn child — not that this is right, but it does not merit life in prison.

Supporters of the bill argue that it will only target women who pursue illegal means of terminating their pregnancies. Abstaining from an argument of whether or not even that would be right, I have to question: If that were true, then why can the bill lead to the prosecution of women who miscarry following a car accident or a beating by an abusive partner?

The sentiments supporting this bill are, then, “part of the cycle of domestic violence,” said Senator Luz Robles, a Democrat from Salt Lake City.

It is true that some women might actively seek a miscarriage rather than consult a doctor for a planned abortion. Some women might not always go about every situation in the most responsible or safest way, especially with an issue as multi-dimensional as a pregnancy, and especially with an unplanned one. But as long as a culture pervades in which no one can talk about unplanned pregnancies, and in which no one can easily come out and admit to an abortion, it is possible that some women might induce a miscarriage of their own means.

I challenge anybody that is anti-choice to find a significant population of women that have pursued a miscarriage and were at any point satisfied by doing so. Without an open dialogue, these women are alone. They are not malicious; they are simply trapped in incredibly difficult circumstances.

Miscarriages are not something women should ever have to defend themselves for. They’re going through enough — and being put on trial for a terminated pregnancy is barbaric.

A woman dealing with a miscarriage is experiencing enough emotional and physical pain without dealing with a restrictive and ill-informed legislative body threatening to punish her even more.

This pain is not to be disregarded, and should not be reduced to simple hormonal reactions or dramatic emotional responses. Her feelings are real. Regardless of a woman’s agency — or lack thereof — in causing her miscarriage, the scar is lasting. Squandering the rights and feelings of women who are trapped in such painful situations by arresting them would most certainly be an irresponsible and backward measure.

What the Utah legislature must take away from the rightful backlash against this proposed law is the indisputable fact that any pregnancy — especially one that ends in an abortion or a miscarriage — is incredibly complicated. It is never a black-and-white issue, and actions leading up to the termination of a pregnancy cannot be easily categorized into actions that should land a woman in jail. As much as Utah’s government wants to see pregnancy as a process with a clear, recognizable, and consistent set of steps, this is simply not reality.

Many advocates of women’s health rights argue that this law would be even less about protecting those who cannot speak for themselves and more about simply punishing women — and I have to agree.

Until legislation is passed and a general social sentiment is accepted that is primarily shaped by the opinions of women who have faced unplanned pregnancies, abortions, or miscarriages, any negative legislation is and will be indisputably inhumane and malicious.

Women who have faced, are facing, or will face an unplanned pregnancy, a miscarriage, or an abortion, are regular people.

They have voices, and they have the right to have their opinions heard. Unless their opinions are going to be respected and fully represented in the public sector, legislation ignoring them cannot be justified.

Right now, too many women feel shameful following their experience of any of the above life-changing events — chosen or not — and are silenced, if not by an abusive partner or a horrendously anti-choice state government, then by the unspoken pulses of a society in which issues of morality and mortality are still far too complicated by an overly conservative culture.

I want those women to be able to speak out. I want them to be free to discuss what they have been through. Never should a woman sit in prison, punished by other human beings for something that only she can understand.

Actively chosen or not, miscarriages are a personal matter, and the Utah legislative body is acting inhumanely by making them — and the women that have gone through them — a public spectacle.