Miscarriage of Justice

There’s a lot of legislative insanity being perpetuated lately, mostly by Republicans, and mostly against women, children, and minorities, but one, written by a predictably white, male, legislator, takes the cake.

Georgia state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R) has introduced a bill that, once enacted, would require a woman who has suffered a miscarriage (“prenatal murder” under the bill) to affirmatively prove that it occurred naturally.  Failure to do so would result in felony charges – possibly even the death penalty (the most pro-life penalty of all).

From MotherJones:

Under Rep. Franklin’s bill, HB 1, women who miscarry could become felons if they cannot prove that there was “no human involvement whatsoever in the causation” of their miscarriage. There is no clarification of what “human involvement” means, and this is hugely problematic as medical doctors do not know exactly what causes miscarriages. Miscarriages are estimated to terminate up to a quarter of all pregnancies and the Mayo Clinic says that “the actual number is probably much higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn’t developing normally.”

From Daily Kos:

Franklin wants to create a Uterus Police to investigate miscarriages, and requires that any time a miscarriage occurs, whether in a hospital or without medical assistance, it must be reported and a fetal death certificate issued. If the cause of death is unknown, it must be investigated. If the woman can’t tell how it happened, then those Uterus Police can ask family members and friends how it happened. Hospitals are required to keep records of anyone who has a spontaneous abortion and report it.

Miscarriages occur often and without warning…for many reasons and often, seemingly, no reason at all.  They often occur before the pregnancy is confirmed by a doctor, but even afterward, unless there are complications or the miscarriages are recurrent, doctors don’t have much to do with early miscarriages – there’s nothing for them to do.  For later miscarriages where the fetus has already died, a D&C is often required to prevent infection and hemorrhage as well as to lessen the emotional toll – something that Franklin would no doubt frown on.

I have no clue how one might affirmatively prove that there was no human involvement – and I doubt Franklin does either.   What exactly does that mean anyway?  Even in a natural miscarriage, might anti-abortion rights advocates demand proof that the mother did not take some medication or commit some act like (to use a Hollywood cliche) throwing oneself down a flight of stairs to cause the miscarriage.  How can you prove what you did not do?

From parenting blog Babble,

Many miscarriages happen without warning or explanation. Women are devastated. Most occur in the first trimester. Most are not “investigated.” Often we just don’t know why the miscarriage happened. It’s thought that the reasons for many miscarriages has to do with some kind of chromosomal abnormality that makes the pregnancy nonviable.  So, if a doctor says, I’m not sure precisely why this pregnancy didn’t continue, what will happen? How will they “investigate?” By asking friends? Asking them what? I can’t even imagine these conversations, the whole thing is so misguided. And miscarriage is common– as many as one in five pregnancies end in one. That’s lots of conversations and investigations of women who have just lost their babies.

There are other factors for miscarriage that may or may not be controllable – in theory.  Among these diabetes, Listeriosis (food poisoning), and obesity.  At what point does a mother who fails to properly control her diabetes, drinks too much caffeine, or negligently eats deli meat become a prosecutable killer under laws like this?

Birth control pills or an IUD may make conception possible in some instances, but may make implantation in the uterus wall (and therefore a viable pregnancy) impossible.  While it would be impossible to prove that this had actually occurred in any given cycle, under the proposed law, theoretically, use of these birth control methods could be construed as human involvement and thereby result in felony charges against the user.  I imagine that in a perfect world, as seen by pro-life zealots, these birth control methods would then be made illegal as methods of abortion.

And what about the emotional pain of being investigated as a potential wrongdoer while dealing with pregnancy loss?  Most of the women I know who have had miscarriages are nothing short of traumatized by the loss of a much-wanted pregnancy.

Miscarriage is unique (unless someone has disappeared) in that we have very little remains to bury, sometimes because no baby has formed properly or it is unfortunately passed when using the toilet.  When this happens, or even with a later miscarriage and an identifiable little body, our loss can be minimised and invalidated by others, which leads us to question our feelings of grief. However, unrecognised or not, it is the strength of the bond with our baby not the length of the pregnancy that determines the depth of our grief. This mothering bond can have begun to form as early as us playing with our dolls as little girls, so our grief is a normal reaction to a broken bond. For recurrent miscarriers, the grief can be compounded by earlier losses.

A funeral normally gives people their cue of how to behave appropriately with protocols to follow and when there isn’t one others are often at a loss themselves and may not even realise we are grieving. This adds to our stress as we can then feel we need to explain this, whereas with a still-birth or loss of a child, everyone is aware of the devastation and expects us to grieve. People may not want to talk about what has happened perhaps because of their discomfort with the issue of death, and it’s the only thing we can think of.

Does it really make sense to take every woman who is experiencing this personal pain (which is estimated to be 15-20% of all women who know they are pregnant) and interrogate them like criminals?  Where is the humanity in that?

Further, criminal trials put the burden of proof squarely on the prosecutor to prove wrongdoing “beyond a reasonable doubt” – not the defendant to prove innocence.  Why should grieving women be held to a higher standard of proof to defend themselves than serial killers and child molesters? And if one is unable to prove the nonexistence of an “intervention,” the inquisition then descends on family and friends who may not even know about the pregnancy yet but on whom you must rely on to defend you…against nothing?

Especially when there is likely no known reason for the miscarriage in the first place – one cannot defend a negative, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt.  The entire concept is spectacularly illogical, but worse than that it’s offensive, overbearing, patronizing, and an incredible abuse of government authority.  And the thought that ANYONE – of any political affiliation – would think that this is acceptable makes me a little nauseous.

One of the inevitable practical effects of something like this would be to keep women from getting the vital prenatal care they need – including nutrition and smoking cessation counseling, prescriptions for prenatal vitamins, potentially lifesaving ectopic pregnancy diagnosis, discussion about their current medications which may not be safe for baby, and so on.  If women are going to be presumed criminals, they will assume it’s best to keep the evidence hidden.

And all of this works to marginalize women – to creep into their lives and control them.  Their medical decisions.  Their privacy.  The ability to grieve their loss as they should.  Women who overwhelmingly have absolutely no intention of having an abortion.  It’s insidious.

And it’s ironic.  Limited government?  Isn’t that what Republican, especially those of the Tea Party persuasion, want?  Despite the signs, no – not really.  They only want it limited as applied to themselves, not when they are enforcing their version of morality on others.  And that is the bottom line here.  It won’t pass, but Franklin will be a hero to anti-abortion rights voters who will willingly ignore the logical and legal flaws in his proposed legislation.

Conservative women – is this what you want out of your party?   To be treated as a criminal as a result of a heartbreaking pregnancy loss?  But it’s not just this bill – there are many many others winding their way through the various state legislatures that are offensive to women’s health in general:

Requiring women (and underage girls, and the disabled, and the mentally incompetent…) to prove rape was “forcible” to be eligible for abortions.

Allowing citizens to murder doctors (and their staff, presumably) in order to prevent abortions.  No matter whether you are for or against abortion rights, this is a horrifying proposal.

A bill that would allow hospitals to let a pregnant woman die rather than perform the abortion that would save her life or arranging for healthcare at a facility willing to perform the lifesaving procedure.  By what moral code are two deaths better than one?

Stripping Planned Parenthood of the funding it uses for NON-abortion healthcare, such as birth control, cancer screenings, and prenatal care, which will, undoubtedly result in MORE unwanted pregnancies and thus MORE abortions – something nobody wants.

What’s next? Incarcerating women upon conception (consensual or otherwise) to ensure they follow doctor’s orders precisely, quit smoking and drinking caffeine and other unhealthy activities, exercise daily, and eat only the most nutritional, organic, foods?  It’s time to put our feet down – we are not simply incubators.  We are citizens with the same rights as anyone else and we deserve and demand better than this.


  1. Lisa said,

    February 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Excellent post! I’m so outraged about this, I don’t think I can even comment without using profanity. As a woman who has suffered miscarriages, this profoundly disturbs and offends me on every possible level; intellectual, personal, emotional. This bill is the most illogical and misogynistic piece of rubbish ever penned by a US politician. Bobby Franklin needs to be ousted, and possibly forced to wear a scarlet “D” for DESPICABLE IGNORANT %$!@.

    I’m actually wondering if the whole thing is some sort of misguided publicity stunt, Westboro Baptist Church style. For obscure and ineffective politicians like Bobby Franklin, I guess any press is good press.

    • February 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm

      Profanity is allowed, Lisa – I posted a Carlin piece below this, after all.

  2. lbwoodgate said,

    February 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Insane notions like this seldom get past the cave dwellings from which they arise from but they idea that an elected official put it out there says more about the knuckle-draggers that elected him.

    For the wing-nuts like this that are all to ready to point about aspects of “intrusive government”, they sure seem to have a fetish for it.

    • February 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      I agree – it won’t pass, but his cheerleaders will love it. The danger is not paying any attention to it and others like it just because we assume it won’t have enough support to pass.

      • lbwoodgate said,

        February 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm

        Totally agree. God forbid that the better nature of our angels has finally succumbed to such demons. Better to be safe than sorry.

    • lbwoodgate said,

      February 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      BTW, very well written piece.

  3. February 27, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Does it really make sense to take every woman who is experiencing this personal pain (which is estimated to be 15-20% of all women who know they are pregnant) and interrogate them like criminals? Where is the humanity in that?

    There is none. I guess in Franklin’s mind, this is OK since it’s all about the “baby.” Each abortion-related bill that is coming out seem to be worse than the last. Of course, they’re taking advantage of the GOP-controlled House. I suppose we’ll be seeing more ridiculous legislation like this one.

    Very well-written, counselor. 🙂

  4. Anne Kelley said,

    February 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I’m flabbergasted to say the least. I think the ones where the women have to prove rape was forced are just as asinine. But, not nearly as surprising to me. This one floored me, the other just made my jaw drop is all. Sigh.

    (Guilty till proven innocent I say!)

  5. February 28, 2011 at 12:14 am

    […] I recently happened upon a complete list of Newscorp assets, holdings,. subsidiaries, etc. As you may know, this is Fox News’ parent company and that pretty much qualifies as a “bad thing” in my book.  I support their freedom of speech completely, but I don’t have to support their warped conservative message or their bottom line…which in turn supports people like Bobby Franklin. […]

  6. Anne Kelley said,

    March 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

    You know, let’s introduce a bill that once the miscarriage happens, the fetus must be taken to a DNA testing facility so the father can be identified and then throw him in jail for having destructive sperm!

    No, I obviously don’t want this, but it’s just as asinine. These bills that are coming up are just really getting to me.

    • March 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Where’s my tinfoil hat??? I had the exact.same.thought last night. In a Joey Lawrence from Blossom voice: Woah!

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