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Have a miscarriage... go to jail?

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Fri, 2005-01-07 17:00

As you may or may not know, most miscarriages are about the human body being incredibly smart and humane: miscarriage, especially early miscarriages which often go unnoticed by many women (to the point that they're assumed to be normal periods, and the women were unaware they were even pregnant), is basically the body's way of naturally terminating births which will generally just not result in full-term, live or healthy births.

But that doesn't make them easy for plenty of women, especially those who had a wanted pregnancy, or who were actutely aware they were miscarrying, or who experienced painful and/or sometimes scary physical symptoms.

Imagine you're one of those women in the state of Virginia, and then you get charged with a CRIME for not calling the POLICE when you miscarry.

When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

That's the actual text of a bill introduced to the Virginia House last month. Required items to be reported -- within a mere 12 hours of a suspected miscarriage -- might well be things like the weight and sex of the "fetus." Not only do determinations like that again show a total lack of understanding about miscarriage (with the vast majority of miscarriages, there will be no visible fetus to weigh), but a total lack of understanding for the emotional state of many women who have miscarried.

Now, why on EARTH would something like this be proposed?

It's not a big leap to assume that the end result wanted here may not be about miscarrying women at all, but to further the anti-abortion agenda by essentially making any miscarriage -- something which in many instances, is in very few ways different than a normal menstrual period -- recognized as a death. I would also posit that it could easily be used, should more abortion rights change, to charge women with crimes for aborting. The truth is, there is NO practical reason for something like this whatsoever: doing so serves neither women nor children. Purportedly, some of the aim with this is to prevent the abandonment of stillborn fetuses, or perhaps those assumed to be dead who are not, but again, MOST miscarriages are not stillbirths or full births, and in many, no fetus at all would be discernable. However, even if that is the case, there are huge logistical gaps in how a law like this would practically help with that, and endless applications of a law like this that would easily do far, far more harm than any real good.

This is likely yet another assult on women from the anti-choicers. It is an affront to women's privacy, autonomy, ownership of their own bodies, and something like this would further endanger the health of women and their children by (justifiably) making women reticent to report pregnancies in the first place and seek out healthcare for pregnancies, including vital pre-natal care. And per usual, it's coming not only NOT from women, but from those who likely don't even fully understand how women's reproductive systems work in the first place, OR, assuming this is at least in part about abandoned stillbirths, from those clearly not taking into account the myriad women's issues and class issues involved in not reporting, sans law, a miscarriage or even a stillbirth. If that's the issue, rather than seeking to criminalize women, why not instead seek to provide more affordable and more easily accessible pre-natal care as well as affordable, safe, legal abortion services? Why not work, then, proactively, and in the real interest of women and children, on providing pregnant women (whether they choose to bring a pregnancy to term or to terminate it) MORE agency and care, rather than seeking a means to charge them with crimes for often uncontrollable, normal yet difficult aspects of their own reproduction?

Mortified? Hopping mad? Confused? You can write to Delegate John Cosgrove who is proposing this and ask him about it, at: Del_Cosgrove@house.state.va.us

More information on being proactive and updates to this issue in general are available via the top link, thanks to the great post on this at the Democracy for Virgnina blog. At this time, Cosgrove has sent a letter to the blogger at that site, explaining some of his intent with this matter and apparently readying to change the text of the bill, but I remain incredibly wary as well as validly concerned that a bill like this -- even if, perchance, it is not INTENDED as anti-choice -- could be grossly damaging to women and reproductive rights, and set an awful precedent for other states, so keeping a vigiliant eye on the bill would be wise.

All the more so because in his response, Cosgrove didn't say a single word about the reproductive rights and/or choice of women being important to him.

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