Utah women may face murder charges after miscarriages

Outrage at bill that could jail women who 'recklessly' endanger unborn children

A proposed Utah law that would open women who suffer a miscarriage to possible criminal prosecution and life imprisonment has enraged feminists and civil rights activists across the United States.

Adopted overwhelmingly by both sides of the state legislature in Salt Lake City earlier this month, the draft bill is now awaiting the signature of the state's Republican Governor, Gary Herbert. It is not clear if the growing national controversy surrounding the proposed law will slow or even stay his pen.

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.

Lawmakers were responding to the case of a 17-year-old pregnant Utah woman who paid a man $150 to assault her physically in the hope that the beating would cause her to miscarry. The child was born anyway and put up for adoption. And while the man involved is currently behind bars, prosecutors found they had no basis in state law to prosecute the young woman. She was in her seventh month when she tried to terminate her pregnancy.

Last-minute efforts to remove reference in the bill to "reckless" acts failed, feeding the uproar about a law that some people say would be impossible to implement and threatens basic freedoms of women. Statistics suggest that 15 to 20 per cent of recognised pregnancies end in miscarriage. "This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder," said Missy Bird, director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah, part of the national organisation that champions abortion rights.

Critics also note that the bill has no exemptions for women who suffer domestic abuse or who have addiction problems. They wonder, for example, about the putative case of a woman remaining with an abusive partner and suffering a miscarriage after an episode of violence. Would remaining in that relationship constitute "reckless" behaviour, they ask?

Abortion remains deeply contentious in the United States, where, with some restrictions, it has been legal under the terms of the landmark Roe v Wade ruling by the Supreme Court of 1973. The issue returned to the front pages last month when Scott Roeder was tried and convicted for the murder in Kansas last August of one of the few doctors legally providing late-term abortions in the country.

The reaction to Utah's new initiative has verged in most quarters on disbelief, however. "For all these years the anti-choice movement has said 'we want to outlaw abortion, not put women in jail', but what this law says is 'no, we really want to put women in jail'," Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, wrote in a blog.

Similarly astonished is the syndicated columnist Dan Savage. "Where will this insanity end?" he wrote. "If every miscarriage is a potential homicide, how does Utah avoid launching a criminal investigation every time a woman has a miscarriage? And how is Utah supposed to know when a pregnant woman has had a miscarriage? You're going to have to create some sort of pregnancy registry to keep track of all those foetuses. Perhaps you could start issuing 'conception certificates' to women who get pregnant. And then, if there isn't a baby within nine months of the issuance of a conception certificate, the woman could be hauled in for questioning."

Utah is used to criticism from some of its more liberal neighbours for its socially conservative ways that range from allowing concealed guns on its state university campus to strict limits on alcohol sales. It has not gone unnoticed that consideration of the bill, with the potentially high costs it would entail, has coincided with a debate on cancelling the last year of school for Utah children to help to save the state money.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?