Also Under Attack: Pregnant Women’s Rights

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Photo: Tom Grill/Getty Images

Any law that gives rights to fetuses takes away rights from the women who carry them. This appears to be obvious to voters when "personhood amendment" ballot initiatives are overwhelmingly voted down. But a weekend New York Times op-ed made it terrifyingly clear that it’s already happening, anyway. Across the country, fetal homicide laws meant to protect pregnant women from domestic abuse and other third-party attacks (homicide is a leading cause of death among pregnant women) have been used to prosecute women for their miscarriages, or force them to undergo unwanted cesareans.

The most high-profile case is probably Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant in Indiana who was imprisoned for more than a year on charges of feticide after she attempted suicide by eating rat poison after her boyfriend abandoned her when she was eight months pregnant. (The charges were later dropped, and she plead guilty to misdemeanor criminal recklessness.) But the Times offers many more. Looking out for the fetus’s right to life, a Washington, D.C., judge ordered a sick 27-year-old woman to undergo a cesarean, which killed her and the fetus. In Iowa, a pregnant woman was arrested for attempted fetal homicide because she fell down a flight of stairs. In Utah, a woman was arrested for fetal homicide after she gave birth to twins and one was stillborn. In other states, women are alleged to have murdered or “chemically endangered” a fetus with alcohol or drugs. A few years ago, a Georgia legislator proposed to make women prove their miscarriages occurred naturally.

“These are not isolated or rare cases,” National Advocates for Pregnant Women executives Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin wrote. The NAPW documented 413 arrests or “equivalent actions depriving pregnant women of their physical liberty” between Roe v. Wade and 2005, and another 380 since then. “In a majority of these cases," they wrote, "women who had no intention of ending a pregnancy went to term and gave birth to a healthy baby.” So next time your legislator advocates for fetal personhood, feel free to ask him what he’s doing for pregnant women’s personhood.