A jealous boyfriend murders his pregnant lover and is charged with a double homicide. Two lives are lost, are they not? 38 states believe this is the case and have enacted fetal homicide laws. (“Some Form of Punishment,” by Nina Liss-Scultz, Mother Jones, May/June 2017 pgs. 48-53) But what if we alter the scenario? What if the pregnant woman asks her boyfriend to beat on her stomach to abort a fetus? Are we talking about fetal homicide now or abortion? If the latter, then, under Rove v. Wade, the woman is guilty of no crime.
Mine aren’t idle questions. Some pro-lifers have argued a pregnant woman carries two lives from the moment of conception and the fetus is entitle to protection under the law. Others insist the fetal homicide law isn’t meant to make criminals of women and a decision to abort a fetus is protected under Roe v. Wade. But, as Lynn Paltrow, founder of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, warned, “if people come to see fetuses as human beings who can be murdered by an angry boyfriend, they will extend that idea to abortions sought or performed by the woman herself.” (Ibid pg. 52)
Paltrow’s remarks were prescient. Soon after George W. Bush signed a federal fetal homicide bill into law, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Utah took the concept a step further. The legislature defined an abortion as a procedure provided in a clinic and under a doctor’s medical care. With the stroke of the governor’s pen, a self-induced abortion became murder. (Ibid pg. 53.) Since then, prosecutors have successfully sent several women to jail under the new legislation. A Mother Jones investigation found at least two-dozen cases to date. (Ibid pg. 50) Jacylin (no second name) of Naples, Utah is one. She went to prison, an inmate at the Split Mountain detention center, for 8 years..
Roe v Wade remains the law of the land but it hangs by a slim thread now that conservative Neil Gorsuch sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. While we wait for a case that will challenge a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, other states have followed Utah’s lead and criminalized self-induced abortions. Some have attempted a more stringent measure, granting personhood to an ovum from the moment of conception. If the notion ever becomes law, a women who takes a morning after pill could be charged under the fetal homicide law and sent to prison. Should that moment arrive, and it isn’t beyond reason to think it could, women would lose their reproductive rights and return to the dark ages before Roe v. Wade. Given the consequences, no woman who wishes to control her body can afford to be complacent.