Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Miscarriage Made Illegal in Utah

The Utah House and Senate recently passed a bill that makes it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage. Though the bill isn’t as evil as I just made it out to be, I used language that blunt because that is the message Utah is effectively sending its female population. The bill is meant to hold pregnant women responsible for induced miscarriages or illegally obtained abortions. In addition to induced miscarriage, however, the bill states that a woman who engages in “reckless behavior” resulting in a miscarriage can be criminally responsible for the death of her child. “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” (Larisa).

I could go on for hours describing my opinion about this bill, but out of respect for differing belief systems, I’m going to focus on a more relevant, and more dangerous aspect of this legislation. It’s sexist. The entire bill stands upon the notion that women are, first and foremost, bodies that can create life. When we write legislation that separates men from women on the basis of reproductive possibility, the discrimination necessary to make that differentiation is -at its base- sexist. This bill primes the law to be untrusting of women to love their own children, making it clear to me that men (who run the government) need to maintain some amount of control over unborn fetuses (the only realm belonging completely to women). The bill even makes women responsible (and criminally liable) for accidents. The whole bill reminds me of our discussion of the Last Stand commercial response and whether men could be switched with women. Because we couldn’t make the switch, we concluded that the initial commercial was sexist. Because the law can’t be attributed to men, making them responsible for accidental miscarriages they may cause inadvertently, the law is sexist.

How we live in a nation that is still passing laws regulating women’s bodies is beyond me, but I can fully understand how Firestone and other feminist scholars describe “liberation in terms that suggest the identification of woman with her body has been the source of our oppression, and hence that the source of our liberation lies in sundering that connection” (272). Agreeing with this bill on the basis that induced miscarriage is murder is at some level understandable to me, but making that stipulation is not worth furthering the cage we’ve built for women in America. This bill was made to seem innocuous (after all, no one likes baby killers), but its real substance is in the fact that it perpetuates control of women’s bodies at the government level, all the while acting under the guise of “saving lives”.


  1. I totally agree that this is an incredibly sexist law that, as you said, presents women as simply baby-making machines, yet they cannot be trusted with the life of their own fetus growing inside of their bodies. Additionally, it objectifies the unborn child as a meaningful contributor to society that intrinsically has the right to life. And, as you put it, this law further solidifies the white male-dominated government control over the female.
    I would like to add to your discussion about the absurdity of this bill with a reminder of another right these unborn children have: the right to be born loved and wanted. If that’s not the case, then I don’t see how having an undesired child and raising it in that type of conflicted environment is healthy for either the child or the child-bearer. Children who are raised in those types of hostile and unloving households are statistically more likely to join a gang, self-define as a deviant, and partake in criminal activities.
    It seems as though these types of bills would have no reason to exist if women were treated as equals in society. If females were respected sexually, we might refuse unsafe sexual intercourse more often (assuming she had unprotected sex because he boyfriend wanted that). If females were granted more personal rights over her body, we might not see abortion as evil or as an escape from responsibility. If we valued females more than it appears today, we might not pass laws that are based on the belief that females can’t make responsible rational choices for her and her offspring’s wellbeing.

  2. I agree to a point that this bill seems...problematic. There do seem to be some unfortunate impulses that went along with crafting this bill, and I think they could have done better to specific exactly what they meant and not simply calling it "reckless behavior."

    And yet, part of me isn't completely against the "spirit" of what they're trying to do, even if I disagree with how they carried it out. I'm not operating under the assumption that women don't' care about their children, or that men don't care about children, or that a woman's body is simply a "temple for the growth of a new child" or anything of the sort. And yet, I feel that we would all agree that a pregnant woman should be careful about how she goes about things. Things such as practicing safe sex, condom usage, and everything else go a part in it, and sometimes a woman may not know she is pregnant immediately (I refuse to acknowledge such "reality" shows as "I was pregnant and didn't know it....for me that seems to be a serious stretching of accountability) but when she does realize she's pregnant, she should be more cautious. This isn't a rant against abortion, but it is a stand against very late term abortions, miscarriages brought about by a mother who wants to continue partying, drinking, using drugs, etc, even knowing she's pregnant. I understand the woman is primarily a woman, but at the same time, just as a man who, knowing that he has impregnated a woman, must take steps to ensure the survivability and well-taken-caredness of the impregnated woman and her child, so must the mother take measures to ensure the survivability of the child. If the child is unwanted, early abortion is an option, and even beyond this it seems that taking every measure to not endanger the well being of the child becomes important.

    I'm not being insensitive to the plight, but I do think that a decent amount of responsibility and discretion must be maintained.

  3. I also found out about the criminalization of miscarriage and was outraged. It is extremely sexist. I feel that if women must be always aware of their life-giving capacity, so should men. It has been suggested that men can harm their sperm by engaging in detrimental behaviors such as smoking marijuana or cigarettes. This may contribute to birth defects. Should men who engaged in these behaviors be subjected to legal action if their infant does have defects? If men want to make laws governing women's bodies and fertility, they also need to make sure that they don't take themselves out of the legal equation!

  4. When I heard about the Utah bill criminalizing miscarriage I am said to say that I was not the least bit surprised. My home state is arguable one of the worst places in the United States to be a woman, Oklahoma. How I understand the laws Oklahoma and Utah continue to pass are exactly what all of you said; these laws are placing the value of a woman in her reproductive ability. As an American citizen it makes me very sad to know that in certain places my rights as a liviing and breating woman are not as important as the unborn life I have the potential to make. The law passed in Utah is a slap in the face to American women. Despite the fact that certain women may seek illegal abortions or even induce a miscarriage, it is their own body and their own pregnancy. The state has to right to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with ther reproductive ability.


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