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Reporting Miscarriages, Criminalizing Pregnant Women’s Bodies

A proposed bill in Kansas would require women to report miscarriages at any stage in pregnancy. This has been described as the first step along the path to criminalizing pregnant women’s bodies. Under an amendment attached to HB 2613, doctors would be required to report all of their patients’ miscarriages to the state health department. This amendment was originally intended to update the state’s procedure for issuing birth certificates for stillborn babies.

The initial purpose of the HB 2613 was to provide an alternative to the state’s current stillbirth certificate. Some parents already believe this over-emphasizes their child’s death in a way that is emotionally painful. Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, who happens to be one of the most enthusiastic abortion opponents in Kansas, added the miscarriage reporting requirement. The bill’s original author is now withdrawing his support from his own legislation. Kansas representative John Doll says, “I can’t support the bill as it was amended, I think it waters it down and makes it into a political statement. I wanted a bill to help give closure to some families. I didn’t want it to have anything to do with pro-life or pro-choice issues.”

Allegedly, hundreds of cases of women have been held criminally liable for decisions they made while pregnant when they later suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. This bill risks criminalizing pregnant women’s bodies rather than to provide closure for women who have miscarried. Unfortunately, no mainstream media sources are covering the story. Does this also reflect an anti-abortion stance of the mainstream media itself?

Student Researcher: Alandra Brown, Indian River State College

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

Culp-Ressler, Terra. “Kansas May Force Doctors To Report Women’s Miscarriages To The State Health Department.” thinkprogress.org. N.p., 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Mar.2014

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/03/24/3418085/kansas-miscarriage-reporting/

ETHICS ALERT

A miscarriage is the loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. The medical term for a miscarriage is spontaneous abortion, but the condition is not an abortion in the common definition of the term. The causes of miscarriage are not well understood. Most miscarriages that occur in the first trimester are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the baby. Most chromosomal problems occur by chance and are not related to the mother’s or father’s health.

Miscarriages are also caused by a variety of other factors including; smoking, drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, and/or exposure to environmental and workplace hazards such as high levels of radiation or toxic agents.

A miscarriage can be an extremely painful experience for a woman, both physically and emotionally. Requiring women, who have suffered a miscarriage, to report these traumatic events to state health officials raises an ethical issue. Not only would this requirement criminalize pregnant women, it could also over emphasize the child’s death, and it can be an invasion of women’s privacy.

As stated in the article, making these additional regulations related to the death of an unborn child threatens to turn pregnant women into suspects in the eyes of the law. The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) have documented many cases where women have been held criminally responsible for the decisions that they made while pregnant when they have suffered a miscarriage. Also, the Anti-abortion advocates tend to put pressure on states to increase the criminal penalties for actions that would result in the loss of a pregnancy.

Basically, if women are required to report their miscarriages, this could put them under legal pressure. Once they report their miscarriage, state health officials will most likely try to determine the cause of the miscarriage. If they suspect that the miscarriage took place because of the mother’s actions, they are subject to put her under investigation. A lot of miscarriages are deemed unexplainable and they are most certainly unexpected. The death of the unborn child may or may not have been intentional, however, usually it is unintentional. Should a woman who is grieving over the loss of her unborn infant have to deal with being penalized for their own child’s death?

Having to report miscarriages may also emphasize the child’s death. When women have miscarriages, they will often spiral down into a depression. Dealing with the loss of an unborn child is seemingly hard enough to deal with. Forcing these women to go down and report these tragic events might only prove to be a painful reminder of what has happened. However, others may disagree. Some believe the purpose of this bill is to provide closure for families and to treat the fetus as a human being. Also, it is said that the establishment of this bill will discourage abortion and eventually make it illegal.

Elizabeth Nash, the states issue manager for the Guttmacher Institute, states that, “The whole point is to further the idea of the fetus as a person. It’s a way of establishing the groundwork for making abortion harder to get, and eventually illegal.”

This new bill in Kansas also brings up another issue with women’s privacy. Women who have suffered a miscarriage probably would not want to share something like that with everyone. Requiring women to report their miscarriages and stillbirths could be infringements upon their confidentiality.

From a utilitarian perspective, this bill going into effect would prove to be highly unethical. Utilitarianism describes an act to be justified, or ethical, when it can maximize overall happiness. However, the creation of this bill may not increase happiness. It has seemingly caused an outrage among many women. While there are some who agree with this bill, mainly anti-abortionists, the majority of the population in Kansas disagrees and finds the bill intrusive and absurd.

The original creator of this bill has questionable motives. This lawmaker has also attempted to outlaw surrogacy, weaken the state’s sex education requirements, levy a sales tax on abortion procedures, and prevent the state’s abortion restrictions from including exceptions for rape and incest. In other words, people are not surprised that she’s turning her attention to a state law to regulate women’s miscarriages.

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