Women`s Issues/Fetal homicide laws and women's rights
QUESTION: Hi. My question is how do you feel about fetal homicide laws? Do you think they pose a threat to a woman's right to choose? Thank you.
ANSWER: Dear Angela:
As a feminist activist, of course, I oppose fetal homicide bills and laws. The fetus is not a human being until it is born and therefore cannot be the subject of murder. These bills and laws are just one of many that Republicans in the U.S. introduce and pass to cut down on women's reproductive rights spelled out by the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic decision in Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, to date this Supreme Court has let such state laws stand.
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QUESTION: There has been a lot of debate surrounding this issue as of late in the community in which I reside. A recent case of a pregnant woman who was brutally murdered evoked all kinds of mixed emotions, and the father of the victims baby has been pushing for such a law. I was wondering, is there an alternative to fetal homicide laws that you would support? For instance, I have heard some people suggest that instead of giving the fetus rights under the law, the fact that the victim was pregnant could be considered an aggravating factor which would warrant a harsher penalty. I am torn on this. I do not support fetal homicide laws either, and recognize them for what they are. A sneaky, underhanded attempt to criminalize or severely restrict a woman's right to choose abortion. Those who champion such laws vehemently deny it, but I do not think the fact that the vast majority of them are personally anti abortion is a mere coincidence. And I am not sure about making the killing of a pregnant woman a more serious offense either, because it seems to imply that the life of a pregnant woman somehow has more value than that of a non pregnant woman. But on the other hand, pregnant women are more vulnerable. I am not certain that this is true, but I recall reading that homicide is the number one cause of death for pregnant woman during the sensational trial of Scott Peterson who murdered his pregnant wife Laci. So perhaps pregnant woman are in need of protection under the law. But I think it can be a slippery slope, and definitely worry about the impact any such laws could have on a woman's right to bodily autonomy and self-determination, particularly with regards to abortion. Thank you for your time, and for sharing your opinion on this subject with me. I appreciate it.
I will email the director of the local Planned Parenthood office and a feminist law professor at Cornell University with whom I'm regularly in touch for their opinions on this and get back to you with their comments.
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QUESTION: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Yesterday, I received an answer from the director of the local Planned Parenthood as follows:
"I am referring this question to Kellie Dupree, our VP for Public Affairs who will provide a response for you."
l'll let you know when I hear from Ms. Dupree or from the feminist law professor to whom I wrote.
The following is the response I received to your question from my local Planned Parenthood organization.
"Thanks for reaching out about this. See below for our main talking points/thoughts on this issue. As you probably know, it’s one we faced in Florida quite recently (in 2013).
"So-called fetal homicide laws could violate due process of law and attempt to elevate the legal status of a fertilized egg to that of an adult human being. The real purpose of these bills is not to protect women, but to politicize violent crimes, especially against pregnant women. Women deserve better than this thinly veiled attempt to chip away at their rights under the guise of keeping them safe.
"These laws could violate due process and removes the knowledge and intent requirement.
· Typically these laws remove the scienter requirement – the “knowledge and intent” requirement – for all separate offenses created under the bill. Often stating that it is not necessary that the perpetrator knew or should have known of the woman’s pregnancy, or that the perpetrator intended to cause harm to, or the demise of, her pregnancy.
· As a result, the law would allow a person to be prosecuted and punished for a crime that he or she did not intend to commit.
It’s an attempt to create fetal personhood by elevating the status of a fertilized egg.
· By defining “unborn child” as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb,” this bill gives separate legal protection to a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus.
· The criminal sentences imposed under this legislation for injury to a woman’s pregnancy would be the same as those that would be imposed had the crime resulted in injury to or the death of the woman.
· By recognizing a woman’s pregnancy as a person with separate legal rights, this legislation seeks to establish fetal personhood and create tension with the Roe v. Wade decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “the word ‘person’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.”
"Fetal homicide laws are not an answer to violence against women.
· Women who are pregnant are at heightened risk for domestic violence and this violence is often a main cause for prosecution under statutes relating to homicide. Instead of proposing ideas to prevent domestic violence, these bills shift the focus away from the women who are the victims of violence.
· Violence against women that harms or causes the loss of their pregnancies should be properly punished. Instead of creating a separate offense, the law should increase the penalty when a criminal act harms both the woman and her pregnancy. Such penalty enhancements address the additional injury without conferring the status of a legal entity onto a woman’s pregnancy, and without taking the focus away from where it should be – on the woman who was the victim, and on the additional injury she suffered.
"Of course the statements above are very specific to US and Florida law, but I believe the general idea remains the same. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions!
"Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida"