Last spring I wrote about a study in the Journal of Health Politics that described the fates of a number of American women who were prosecuted for being pregnant or losing foetuses or infants. In the instances given, the proceedings were based upon the women behaving outside of the cultural, mostly religious, beliefs of the prosecutors and the courts. There are laws in several states including Georgia and Utah, that allow the prosecution (persecution?) of women for miscarriage.
women who miscarry could become felons if they cannot prove that there was “no human involvement whatsoever in the causation” of their miscarriage.
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.
This is not only a problem in the US. From El Salvadore, a country whose reproductive laws are driven by the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, we have the story of a women jailed for 10 years for the crime of miscarrying.
Glenda Xiomara Cruz was crippled by abdominal pain and heavy bleeding in the early hours of 30 October 2012. The 19-year-old from Puerto El Triunfo, eastern El Salvador, went to the nearest public hospital where doctors said she had lost her baby.
It was the first she knew about the pregnancy as her menstrual cycle was unbroken, her weight practically unchanged, and a pregnancy test in May 2012 had been negative.
Four days later she was charged with aggravated murder – intentionally murdering the 38-to-42 week foetus – at a court hearing she was too sick to attend. The hospital had reported her to the police for a suspected abortion.
After two emergency operations and three weeks in hospital she was moved to Ilopango women’s prison on the outskirts of the capital San Salvador. Then last month she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the judge ruling that she should have saved the baby’s life.
…Xiomara’s father describes the conviction as a “terrible injustice”.
He testified in court that his daughter had endured years of domestic violence at the hands of her partner. And yet the prosecution – which sought a 50-year jail term – relied heavily on this man’s allegation that she had intentionally killed the foetus.
This type of prosecution is a direct result, and perhaps a desired result, of draconian anti-abortion laws. Some of these women suffer from domestic abuse or addiction issues, and rather than provide options such shelters and addictions services, governments prefer to rely on prosecution to ensure women are kept in their place.
Some opposition to laws such as these comes from religious people, and some support comes from secularists, but the driving force behind anti-women laws is religion. The Catholic Church uses its worldwide influence in an attempt to push their agenda of denying rights to women, and fundamentalist Christians are at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement in North America. As would be expected, abortion policies and practices differ across the Islamic and Arabic world, although in the areas where women are punished for extra-marital sex, abortion services must remain hidden.
In the end however, all of the anti-abortion laws put the potential rights of a foetus above the actual rights of a woman and her personal autonomy. The end result is these offensive laws do nothing to protect foetuses or infants and cause direct harm to women who dare have sex, willingly or not.