Utah’s Feticide Law Puts Women Who Miscarry Open to Murder Charges
Under a new Utah law, women who miscarry under certain conditions are open to murder charges and life sentences. Feticide laws in other states focus on abusive boyfriends and husbands, but this one targets the woman herself.
Utah’s new law, in which women who miscarry could face charges of murder and life sentences in prison, has the American Medical Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and women’s advocacy groups worried.
Other states, such as North Carolina, Florida and Mississippi, have laws that are directed towards a third party and “were passed in response to a pregnant woman who has been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend,” Paltrow said. But Utah’s law “is directed to the woman herself, and that’s what makes it different and dangerous.”
The law became official March 8. State Rep. Carl Wimmer proposed it after a 17-year-old girl who was 7 months pregnant paid a man she didn’t know to beat her up to induce a miscarriage. He kicked her in the stomach repeatedly and even bit her neck. But the fetus survived and the baby was given up for adoption.
The young woman was charged with second-degree felony criminal solicitation to commit murder in Juvenile Court, but was not ultimately charged.
Under Utah law at that time, a woman could not be held criminally liable for attempting to obtain an abortion on her own. The man who beat her was found guilty of third-degree attempted killing of an unborn child under a state anti-abortion statute and was sentenced to up to five years in jail.
Wimmer, an ardent advocate for repealing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting abortion under a woman’s right to privacy, proposed the first version of what became the Utah Criminal Homicide and Abortions Revisions bill.
Any ‘Reckless’ Act
Originally the bill criminalized any “reckless” act by a pregnant woman that causes a miscarriage. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert refused to sign it out of concern that the wording was murky enough to mean pregnant women who lost a fetus due to slipping on ice, over-exercising or driving past the speed limit could face the bill’s most extreme punishment of life in prison.
The bill was revised, yet the law still contains provisions that may have consequences far exceeding the scope of the legislature’s intent, critics say. Among other things, law enforcement officials now have discretion over arrests and investigations in connection with the law.
Some of the “knowing or intentional” acts that may be prosecuted under the law include smoking cigarettes during pregnancy, staying in an abusive relationship, refusing a Caesarean section or bed rest when instructed by a doctor or using prescription medications that are known to harm a fetus.
One major concern is that the bill will drive women in need of prenatal and health care underground.
Wimmer assured opponents that the law would only be applied “in the most glaring of cases.” Law enforcement officials, however, have discretion to arrest and investigate whichever cases they choose.
Advocates representing low income and minority women have expressed concern that the law will have a particular impact on women already disproportionately targeted for punishment, state control and arrests.
Part of a longer article at http://www.womensenews.org/story/law/100419/utahs-feticide-law-puts-miscarriage-trial
Criminal Homicide and Abortion Revisions bill http://le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/static/HB0462.html
Utah American Civil Liberties Union http://www.acluutah.org/
“What the Utah bill will really mean for women’s rights and health,” National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health http://latinainstitute.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/what-the-utah-bill-will-really-mean-for-womens-rights-and-health/