No one should be surprised by a proposed Utah law that would consider possible criminal prosecution and life imprisonment for women who suffer miscarriages in that state. Appalled maybe, but not surprised. It was just a matter of time.
Since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States 37 years ago, advocates on both sides of the issue have been trying to chip away at it. And many opportunities have arisen to do that--from new advances in technology that have lowered the age of fetal viability, to new methods of providing abortion.
But it has also been clear from Roe's early days that opponents of abortion often viewed that Supreme Court decision as a battle between a malicious woman and a powerless baby. The complexities that go into making a decision to abort a fetus were reduced to a woman's selfishness or disregard for human life in many instances. A cacophony of anti-choice voices rose in support of bills that would criminalize women who smoked during pregnancy or used drugs. Others protested that Roe v. Wade's provision allowing abortion to protect the health of a woman was too broad and too often misused--an easy out. The demonization of women has at times escalated, while those same voices simultaneously condemned contraception and sexuality education.
As a proud mother and foster parent, I consider my teenage daughter one of my life's greatest achievements. As a woman who had an abortion during college, I can say that choosing abortion is never easy. But I'm so grateful it was an option and I've never regretted it. Being pregnant when I was determined to be a parent is the greatest joy I have ever experienced. Being pregnant when you're too young, too poor, too ill, or just not ready can be the embodiment of despair.
Which brings us to Utah. The proposed law would enable the state's prosecutors to pursue women who seek illegal, unsupervised forms of abortion. And it includes a provision that could trigger murder charges against women found guilty of an "intentional, knowing or reckless act" that leads to a miscarriage. How broadly those words are interpreted is anyone's guess. If a woman miscarries after jogging or shoveling snow or drinking a glass of wine, did she engage in a reckless act that caused her to miscarry? If she works as a cashier, a job that requires her to remain on her feet for eight hours a day, and then miscarries, was it intentional or a way to earn a living? What if she doesn't even know she's pregnant yet and goes skiing?
Here's the larger question: Who are these people who are so willing to pass laws about other people's pregnancies? Why are they so afraid of the choices that individual women make? And why are they so ready to instill fear in the hearts of women whenever they choose to engage in sexual activity? It's already a gamble: Will I become pregnant? In Utah, the stakes may be even greater: Will I become pregnant and possibly spend the rest of my life in jail?
Tamar Abrams is the communications director at the Institute for Policy Studies, a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally, and a writer based in Arlington, Virginia. www.ips-dc.org