Sunday, February 28, 2010

Utah Will Soon Not Be A Good Place For Pregnant Women

When I read today that only Republican Gov. Gary Herbert's signature is lacking to enact into Utah state law a bill that will make pregnant women subject to even more stringent surveillance and control than they already are in US society-- a law that would make them vulnerable to being charged with murder when they miscarry-- I flashed on the measures the Nicolae Ceausecu regime took to enact its plan to increase the population of Romania from 23 to 30 million by the year 2000.
While the main thrust of the law is to enable prosecutors in the majority-Mormon state to pursue women who seek illegal, unsupervised forms of abortion, 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. Some say this could include drinking one glass of wine too many, walking on an icy pavement or skiing.
15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage-- without intervention.

The Ceaucescu regime, of course, went much farther than Utah's new law does, but the underlying attitude is rather similar:
[Ceaucescu] began his campaign in 1966 with a decree that virtually made pregnancy a state policy. "The fetus is the property of the entire society," Ceausescu proclaimed. "Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity."
The underlying attitude being: "The fetus is the property of the entire society." That is, after all, what the Utah legislature is saying by criminalizing miscarriage. The Ceaucescu regime began the campaign with banning abortions and sex education.
Books on human sexuality and reproduction were classified as "state secrets," to be used only as medical textbooks. With contraception banned, Romanians had to smuggle in condoms and birth-control pills. Though strictly illegal, abortions remained a widespread birth-control measure of last resort. Nationwide, Western sources estimate, 60 percent of all pregnancies ended in abortion or miscarriage.
Lots of places in the US ban sex education for teenagers. And some of the same people who have campaigned to ban sex education for teenagers would like to see contraception banned altogether. The ideology may be different, but the attitude toward who owns (mostly female) people's bodies is identical.

Here's what really horrified me about Ceaucescu's persecution of women back then, every time I read or heard about it:
The government's enforcement techniques were as bad as the law. Women under the age of 45 were rounded up at their workplaces every one to three months and taken to clinics, where they were examined for signs of pregnancy, often in the presence of government agents - dubbed the "menstrual police" by some Romanians. A pregnant woman who failed to "produce" a baby at the proper time could expect to be summoned for questioning. Women who miscarried were suspected of arranging an abortion. Some doctors resorted for forging statistics. "If a child died in our district, we lost 10 to 25 percent of our salary," says Dr. Geta Stanescu of Bucharest. "But it wasn't our fault: we had no medicine or milk, and the families were poor."
Presumably state legislatures-- even Utah's-- won't ever go this far. Still. I lived in Utah once, and I was of child-bearing age at the time. This is creepy stuff. Deeply creepy.


Foxessa said...

Beyond creepy.

As much as the field seems to despise Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale at least, seemed to me back when published to be prescient.

Now it's is nearly real life for most women in the U.S., even without that damned gloss of handmaiden sex stuff.

We're getting closer every year. With all that's gone on during our brief window of liberation, which has now turned into fighting for right to be pole dancers and throwing up drunk and date raped, what comes next may be worse than what went before that brief period of liberation brought about via our ability ourselves to control our reproductive lives.

Love, C.

Athena Andreadis said...

I'm reminded of James Tiptree's prophetic words in The Women Men Don't See:

"Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like — like that smoke. We'll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You'll see."

Feminists have been accused of "causing" 9/11 and for the deterioration of the family. Now reproductive rights are being rolled back, and false multiculturalism allows barbaric customs vis-à-vis women to persist in immigrant communities.

Perhaps we don't deserve the stars, after all.

Josh said...

Am I right that this is in one way more punitive than El Salvador, inasmuch as you're exonerated there if it's established that you've miscarried? Or am I misunderstanding that country?

Timmi Duchamp said...

El Salvador's law is different. It is aimed at amateur abortions being disguised as miscarriages when they go awry. Here's a description of the law, via Catholics for Choice:

El Salvador has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, resulting from the 1997 reform of the Penal Code to withdraw all legal grounds for abortion, including to save the life of a woman. The sentence is life imprisonment for anyone, including the woman herself, who induces an abortion. In 1999, El Salvador also amended its Constitution to recognise human life from the moment of conception.

Utah's law covers actual miscarriages (which are inadvertent). Because of Roe v. Wade, not all abortions can be criminalized (particularly not early ones-- & of course most miscarriages occur in the earliest stage of pregnancy). It will allow prosecutors to punish behavior they decide is "risky" (being married to or living with a batterer, walking down the street by yourself at midnight, sports activity, drinking, smoking, prostitution, bulimia, drugs of any sort including over the counter, who knows, maybe staying up too late at night or working too many hours a week-- if the prosecutor think it's behavior that's risky for the fetus & can get medical opinion to say that it probably put the fetus at risk...) It sounds like there's a lot of room for arbitrary interpretation.

It all sounds crazy as I try to imagine scenarios in which the law would actually be used. I guess we just have to hope that no doctor or prosecutor is likely to blame a woman for getting beaten up or think that because someone saw her drinking a glass of wine or smoking a cigarette she endangered the fetus. When I wrote the post I was thinking of this law more in terms of underlying assumptions about women than as a tool that might actually be used to wreck people's lives. Sadly, though, we know that common sense doesn't rule zealots. So it does seem likely some prosecutor will wait until the "perfect" exemplary case comes along to apply it-- a woman known to be using drugs, say-- a case in which public opinion will be inclined to condemn her because her behavior marks her as deviant.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the text of the law (, I noticed a minor but highly cynical detail. For decades conservatives have been saying that "he" means everyone when it comes to the rights of women - so no need to ammend rights to be gender-neutral. But when trying to lock women up for miscarriages, they made a special point of crossing off "he" and replacing it with "the person", presumably to head off a defense that the law only applies to men that cause a woman to miscarry but not the woman herself.

Unknown said...

Am I right in thinking this law applies to miscarriages that happen early on? If so, there's something particularly creepy to me in that it is a change from LDS church doctrine - I believe that Brigham Young talked about life beginning at "quickening" (first kicks). What I find worrisome is that the Mormon Church is coming out of its own doctrine (and state, in the case of the anti-gay legislation they helped enact in California) to merge with the broader Christian Right. As an expatriate Utahn myself, I've been following the goings-on for a few decades, and this is new.

Foxessa said...

This is part and parcel of what the LDS missionaries, in company with the evangelical and pentacostal missionaries, plus help from the senators the House on C St. in D.C. have been doing with their meddling in African nations' laws: attempting to make it a criminal offense to be gay, and punishable by death to have had sex with a person of the same sex.

This is is as outrageous as the divisive, very hurtful actions they're encouraging in Haiti, against vodoussants, by denying practicioners water, food, shelter and medical help, and not so subtly encouraging their Haitian 'surrogates' to take their machetes to their "witchcraft" practicing fellow citizens. This way lies civil war.

Love, C.

Anonymous said...

I live in USA since 1990. Your article reminded me about another "small" detail. Either in my rural or in city clinics I met many times women answering to the habitual questions during a physical exam: ie first time period, last period, number of pregnanices( pay attention here) " up to 50 abortions I kept track, I can't remember how many after I had" Abortion was the only approved legal contraception method for women with minimum five births. As a medical doctor I've done my best to educate female population at list about the natural method. Legal consequence for me was being investigated many times by government of "why I teach women how to don't get pregnant".It seems that the consequences of the demonic demografic policy of Ceausescu era are not at all learned or seen by anybody in this world. Women deciding to abort no matter what and ending up death of septicemic shock leaving behind few small kids orphans; countless babies left in the hospitals by mothers who were runing right after they gave birth...It was no way to track them down as they came in the last minute of delivering and indentidfication of the mother was only verbal... ?? 35 and more years of pain were already forgotten? Nothing to be learned out of such desaster?