Wednesday, May 30, 2012

America's strange obsession with criminalizing abortion

A rather strange event has occurred in Indiana.  A severely unstable and pregnant woman attempted to commit suicide.  She survived, but her child died because of her actions.  Neither suicide nor abortion is illegal in the state of Indiana or in the USA; however, shortly after the incident, a state prosecutor charged the woman with murdering her fetus and attempted feticide.

The Guardian UK newspaper elaborates:
On 23 December 2010 Shuai became so depressed after she had been abandoned by her boyfriend – a married Chinese man who broke his promise to set up a family with her – that she decided to end her life. She consumed rat poison, and after confessing to friends was rushed to the Methodist hospital.

Doctors took steps to save her, but on 31 December there were signs that the baby, then at 33 weeks gestation, was in distress and a Caesarian was performed. On the second day of Angel's life the baby was found to have a massive brain hemorrhage and on 2 January was taken off life support.
Many countries in the world criminalize abortion.  Most Latin American countries routinely prosecute and incarcerate women who undergo treatment and doctors who perform abortions.  The moral argument is that a fetus is a person and subject to the same rights as an actual person.  However, by that same logic there is always two people involved in the gestation process: the mother and the child.  In the above case, we have a mentally unstable women who attempts to commit suicide and a child who was born prematurely but dies soon afterwards, because of the mother's actions.  The fetus was 32-weeks old when Shuai attempted suicide.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the woman's lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to have the charges overturned on the following basis.
Defense attorneys argued in court documents filed March 9 that prosecuting a woman based on the outcome of her pregnancy violates constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment and is cruel and unusual punishment.
Women's rights and legal groups have intervened in the case:
Several medical and women's rights groups, including the National Organization for Women and the National Alliance for Mental Illness, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Shuai, claiming that prosecuting Shuai could set a precedent under which pregnant women could be prosecuted for smoking or other behavior that might deemed a danger to their fetus. They said that could discourage women from seeking prenatal care.
The prosecution claims that they are only following the law and the three-judge appeals court stated that "Shuai had not proven that common-law immunity exists for pregnant women who harm their own fetuses".  So what does this really mean?

In America's southern and conservative states there has been an outbreak of prosecutions against mothers.  Rennie Gibbs of Mississippi was accused of murdering her unborn child.
Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
In Alabama, Amanda Kimbrough a mother of three was was arrested at her home and charged with "chemical endangerment" of her unborn child.  Just prior she gave birth to a child that lived for nineteen minutes.  The basis of the prosecution was that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy; a claim she has denied.
"That shocked me, it really did," Kimbrough said. "I had lost a child, that was enough."
She now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year sentence behind bars.
This bizarre infatuation of the religious and conservative right with women's reproductive organs and their individual liberties is appalling.  In Latin America, despite abortion's illegality, the abortion rate is higher than in either Western Europe or the United States.
In a region where there is little sex education and social taboos keep unmarried women from seeking contraception, criminalizing abortion has not made it rare, only dangerous. Rich women can go to private doctors. The rest rely on quacks or amateurs or do it themselves. Up to 5,000 women die each year from abortions in Latin America, and hundreds of thousands more are hospitalized.
If the objective of these prosecutoral zealots is to increase the welfare of newborns or reduce abortions, their mission will fail.  In the first case, anyone who thinks they may be subject to prosecution  just will simply get a legal abortion.  In the second case, as the evidence above shows, by creating legal barriers to abortion all you end up doing is forcing women into back alley clinics where their lives are jeopardized and where ultimately more deaths will occur due to a lack of proper medical supervision.

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