Monday night, the state Senate passed SB3412, which expands the definition of legal personhood to included "a human embryo or fetus at any stage of gestation in utero, when any such term refers to the victim of any act made criminal by this part, and when at the time of the criminal act the victim was pregnant." In other words, if you commit a crime against a woman that harms or intends to harm her pregnancy, the law is going to treat that embryo or fetus "at any stage of gestation in utero" as another legal person.
Beat a pregnant woman half to death? They'll charge you for trying to kill her and trying to kill her baby.
I'm sympathetic to laws like that. Women are at an increased risk of domestic violence when we're pregnant, because we're pregnant, and it would be nice if the laws reflected that someone who abuses a pregnant women has different aims than a jackass who abuses a woman who isn't pregnant.
But I can't get behind this law. And here's why.
If an embryo is a legal person at any stage of gestation, that means it is a legal person before i even know if I'm pregnant. Say I am pregnant, but don't know it. Say it's very early on in the pregnancy and I haven't even missed a period yet. I go downtown Nashville and I'm mugged. A person pushes me down and steals my purse. Later, I get my period. It's a little heavier than usual, but whatever. I have miscarried, but I don't know it. That mugger could be charged with a more serious crime than mugging, except that no one knows, not even me, that there's a second victim.
Should the police, therefore, routinely administer a pregnancy test to every female victim of a violent crime who appears to be possibly fertile? Would I have the right to decline to take that pregnancy test? Or does the state's responsibility to find all of the potential victims of a crime outweigh my right to privacy? If I refuse to take a pregnancy test, could I be charged as a co-conspirator with my mugger, since I am "hiding" the evidence of another victim?
Or what if I get pregnant and everything seems to be going fine and I'm looking forward to the baby and it's wonderful and I'm three months along, which seems safe, so I tell all my friends and family and we're all very excited and then, tragically, I miscarry my very wanted pregnancy.
There is now a dead legal person. The police are obliged to investigate the deaths of people, right? So, is this law going to open women who've miscarried to criminal investigations to make sure no one has caused this miscarriage?
I know liberals tend to think that laws like this are all about the abortion debate — designed to sneak language into the law that defines legal personhood from conception so that they can use that concept to chip away at abortion rights. But I honestly believe that it does also have to do with people wanting criminals who deliberately cause miscarriages (or try to) to be punished.
My concern is that the ways that this kind of law has to be implemented, in order to actually work, are a gross invasion of privacy on a lot of women and heap a whole lot more stress and suffering on women who are already going through a terrible tragedy. Women who miscarry should not be reduced to crime scenes.
There has to be a better way to do what this bill is trying to do.