Friday, January 07, 2005

Criminalizing miscarriage

"Mr. Fireman... were you told that women partnered to men in your chosen profession have higher rates of miscarriage? And that children of firemen are at higher risk of birth defect? And you went ahead and had sex with a known fertile woman anyway? Well then sir, everytime you walk into a burning building you are guilty of child endangerment, aren't you! I'm sorry, there's nothing else to do but require every firefighter to take a vow of celibacy (or homosexuality). If you're caught having sex with a woman you'll be charged with a misdemeanor."

Once again, reproductive fascism is not as outlandish as you may think. Virginia Republican trying to force women to report every miscarriage to law enforcement. But as long as we're only looking to prosecute women, this is somehow accepted. If the logic of this law is taken to its natural conclusion, however - even men, corporations and your own government could be held criminally liable. I really hate how you often must show how proposed reproductive legislation could be used against *men* to make people think twice about it. For some reason it's perfectly OK to trample on the human rights of a mother when a fetus is involved, but not OK to target those of the father.

Obviously, the sponsor of this bill, Rep. Cosgrove has little or no knowledge of basic female biology. The logistics of enforcing this bill would be a nightmare. First, because about 20% of every pregnancy ends in miscarriage in the first trimester. Many times, women don’t even know they’re pregnant or having a miscarriage – they just think they’re having a particularly heavy period. So what, are we supposed to dutifully report every tampon used?*

Second, how this bill does not, in effect criminalize miscarriages I have no clue. Apparently most states require health care providers to report fetal deaths after a certain age (such as 20 weeks) to state vital statistic bureaus. But existing law in Virginia already goes one step further. Health care providers must report all “products of conception” regardless of gestational age. Honestly, as long as you’re having heterosexual intercourse there’s always a tiny chance of conceiving (even with contraception, even using condoms), and then having your body slough off the “product of that conception” during your regular menstrual cycle. Which means that every period is a potential miscarriage; subject to reporting.

This bill wouldn’t be quite so horrific if it just expanded the current law to require all women to anonymously report suspected miscarriages to the same channels healthcare providers do. But it doesn’t – it brings the cops into the picture. Why does law enforcement need to get involved unless the assumption will be that women are doing something criminal that caused the miscarriage? How does that not presume guilt?

Third – the slope is getting entirely too slippery right now. Since a woman would have to know she was pregnant to even suspect she was having a miscarriage, I really do not see how it would be much of a stretch to require all women in the state of Virginia to report every pregnancy, or suspected pregnancy as well. And for that matter, yes – require them to take monthly pregnancy tests .

You may say, well – abortion is still legal (for the time being) so how could a woman be found criminally liable in the miscarriage of her fetus? Very easily. State legislatures are finding ways to push the Roe v. Wade envelope every day. More and more states are criminalizing the mother’s actions or lack thereof that affect her fetus. For recent examples check out this article. If a woman who has reported a miscarriage is a known drug user, or admits to having consumed alcohol, or for that matter took prescription medication that has known bad fetal side-effects, she could be prosecuted for negligence.

*It’s been suggested in quite a few places that the women of Virginia protest this bill by sending Rep. Cosgrove their used tampons, maxipads, pantiliners, etc. Just to prove their willingness to fully cooperate with the intent of the law. I, for one think this is a fabulous idea! Apparently it IS legal to send bodily fluids in the mail if you mark them appropriately as a bio-hazard. I would take it one step further, however and also send him any used piss-on-a-sticks. I’ve still got a couple in the cupboard I may soil and send to him… a small gift from me and the RiverFry.

The more I think about this, the more I believe they’re just not taking this law far enough. Why not require every couple to report every act of heterosexual intercourse? Just to be on the safe side, you know… then they could require the piss-on-a-stick and prosecute any woman who tests positive and doesn’t immediately seek prenatal care. And they could have mandatory maternal drug/ alcohol testing. Ooh! Even better idea – since a large chunk of miscarriages are caused by abnormal sperm due to genetic or drug/cigarette/alcohol abuse by the father, we could prosecute them! That might assuage those pesky feminists if we target the fathers, too. While we’re at it…. Let’s ban tightie-whitie briefs and tight pants that heat up male testicles and damage sperm! Hell, why not go back to prohibition days and outlaw alcohol and tobacco use altogether in the fight for fetal rights?? Studies are showing that even if these toxic substances don’t result in miscarriage, they do contribute to babies born with mental retardation, learning disabilities & behavior problems (such as A.D.D.)

Oh and here’s an environmental angle… from the above link, apparently women who live near agricultural areas where certain pesticides are used face a 40 to 120 % increase in risk of miscarriage due to birth defects; and exposure to agricultural pesticides has been shown to lower sperm count and damage sperm - men experiencing infertility were found to be employed in agricultural/pesticide related jobs 10 times more often than a study group of men not experiencing infertility (lower sperm counts have been proven to raise the rate of miscarriage).

Why, there’s a goldmine of potential criminals according to that link. Everyone from micro-electronic workers to paint manufacturers. In fact, the father’s exposure to paints has been shown to increase childhood leukemias. Firemen also appear to produce an unusually high level of abnormal sperm. Dentists and dental assistants have over twice the normal number of problems with pregnancy. Let’s target those professions, too! Maybe *now* we could prosecute smoking partners of women for exposing their unborn children to 2nd hand smoke! And finally, FINALLY prosecute them for domestic abuse (since pregnant women are more likely to be targetted).

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