You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our Group site.

Wow. Nebraska, Iowa and Georgia… just Wow.

28 Feb, 11 | by Iain Brassington

I mentioned a few days ago the proposed law in South Dakota that would provide a defence of justifiable homicide for to those accused of killing abortion doctors.  That proposal was shelved… but reports keep coming in of proposed laws, each of which is crazier than the last.

I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a big game of lunacy poker being played over there.

First up, Nebraska, where a bill has been brought before the state legislature that is pretty much the same as the one South Dakota was forced to ditch – with the exception that it doesn’t limit itself to husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, mistresses, or servants.  Which means that it’s at least more inclusive.  (The link doesn’t seem to work for me at the moment – indeed, the whole Nebraska legislature site seems to be borked.  I hope it’ll come back up later.)

Iowa seems to have decided to raise Nebraska’s bid, and is considering a proposal to extend the protection of human life back as far as conception – which means that the survival of an undifferentiated blob of cells a couple of days post-conception would be seen as morally equivalent to the survival of you or me.  Of course, a newly-fertilised egg is human and alive; but it’s not thereby a human life, any more than the blood cells that I lost when I cut my finger yesterday were human lives.  One further oddity of this bill is its stipulation

that life is valued and protected from the moment of conception, and each life, from that moment, is accorded the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Iowa, and the laws of this state [emphasis mine - IB]

– which, to my untrained eye, looks to indicate that the foetus has the right to own and inherit property, too.  Strange.  But let’s not get hung up about the details… there’s more to come.

Because there’re people in Georgia who’ve decided to see all these bids and call them, by proposing a law that could potentially punish miscarriages with the death penalty.  No, really: murder is a capital crime in Georgia, and one of the first things the bill does is attempt to define abortion as “legal prenatal murder”.  It goes on to insist that this absurd formula should replace the neutral phrase “induced termination of pregnancy” in other legislation.

Sec 16-12-140(b)(2) states that

‘Prenatal murder’ means the intentional removal of a fetus from a woman with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.  [...] Such term does not include a naturally occurring expulsion of a fetus known medically as a ‘spontaneous abortion’ and popularly as a ‘miscarriage’ so long as there is no human involvement whatsoever in the causation of such event.

But, as Jen Phillips points out,

[t]here is no clarification of what “human involvement” means, and this is hugely problematic as medical doctors do not know exactly what causes miscarriages. [...] Holding women criminally liable for a totally natural, common biological process is cruel and non-sensical. Even more ridiculous, the bill holds women responsible for protecting their fetuses from “the moment of conception,” despite the fact that pregnancy tests aren’t accurate until at least 3 weeks after conception.

In fairness to the bill, it does also state in the same section that if

a physician makes a medically justified effort to save the lives of both the mother and the fetus and the fetus does not survive, such action shall not be prenatal murder

– but this still seems to suggest that it an abortion is permissible only if the foetus is given the same moral consideration as the mother.  That’s absurd in its own right.  If the pregnancy is the problem, such that either the foetus or the mother will survive, and the medic attempts to save the woman’s life by ending the pregnancy, then the medic is potentially liable for the laughable crime of prenatal murder.

By submitting your comment you agree to adhere to these terms and conditions
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Latest from JME

Latest from JME

Blogs linking here

Blogs linking here