If signed into law, a bill passed by the Utah House and Senate last week would criminalize illegally induced abortions and some miscarriages.
The bill was motivated by a recent case in Utah in which a 17-year-old girl, who was seven months pregnant, paid a man $150 to beat her in hopes that it would cause a miscarriage. Though the girl was charged with attempted murder (the fetus survived the attack), charges were dropped due to a “loophole” in Utah state law that does not allow for prosecution of attempting to arrange an abortion, regardless of the legality of the circumstances. Under Utah State House Bill 12, pregnant women who pursue illegal abortions (including attempts to induce a miscarriage) would be penalized with sentences as severe as life imprisonment.
Critics of the bill are concerned about the potential it introduces for interpretation of the intent and responsibility of a pregnant woman towards her fetus. Based on an extreme and tragic case, the bill could call any miscarriage into question. Falling on an icy sidewalk, tripping on the stairs (as seen in the case of a pregnant woman in Iowa last month), or driving above the speed limit could be construed as “reckless” behavior—a mere façade for attempted spontaneous abortion and grounds for a murder conviction. The implications of the bill are not yet clear, but raise unnerving challenges to the civil rights of pregnant women.
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