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Utah is poised to become the first state in the U.S. to criminalize miscarriage and punish women for having or seeking an illegal abortion.  Utah's "Criminal Miscarriage" law:

   * expands the definition of illegal abortion to include some miscarriages
   * removes immunity protections for women who have or seek illegal abortions
   * treats women as presumptive criminals and leaves them open to criminal prosecution

But even among states that punish illegal abortions, this "Criminal Miscarriage" law is unique.  It not only punishes individuals who perform illegal procedures; it punishes women.

I spoke with activists in Salt Lake City this morning to ask how to help out of state.  They all made the exact same request: Tell everyone you know about this law.


National media attention and widespread public outcry are the only way to stop women and girls in Utah from being subjected to this unreasonable and dangerous "Criminal Miscarriage" law.

Utah is not a state known for its legislative sanity.  This, after all, is a state that recently made headlines for proposing to honor gun manufacturers on Martin Luther King Day and for considering the elimination of 12th grade to cut back on education spending.

Well, it just got a whole lot worse.

How Utah Defined Miscarriage as Criminal Homicide

Utah's "Criminal Miscarriage" law (H.B. 12) makes simple changes to the state's definition of "abortion" and the section of the Utah Criminal Code governing "criminal homicide."

This law:

- defines legal abortion as a procedure "carried out by a physician or through a substance used under the direction of a physician."  Anything else that terminates a pregnancy is now defined as illegal abortion - including miscarriages.

- states that "The killing or attempted killing of a live unborn child in a manner that is not abortion shall be punished as...criminal homicide." (emphasis mine)

- removes existing immunity from criminal prosecution for women "who seek to have or obtain an abortion" or "upon whom a partial birth abortion is performed."

- applies the legal standard of an "intentional, knowing or reckless act of the woman" as punishable as criminal homicide.

Translation: If a woman has a miscarriage but didn't know that she was pregnant, she cannot be charged with criminal homicide.  So while this law does not criminalize all miscarriages, anything that could be defined as "knowing" or "reckless" would leave a woman at risk for criminal prosecution.

Think it couldn't possibly be that bad? The ACLU of Utah is pretty sure that it could.  In their letter appealing to Utah Governor Gary Herbert to veto the bill (Spoiler: He won't!), the ACLU said:

Practically speaking however, this bill changes the presumption that abortions obtained in this state are legal. If this bill is signed into law, women in this state will essentially be in the uncomfortable and unfortunate position of having to prove that abortions they obtain (or miscarriages that they suffer) are not unlawful.

In fact, it's the "recklessness" standard that may pose the greatest threat. Again, from the ACLU:

A woman who fails to wear a seatbelt and is in a car accident could be charged with reckless homicide, should she miscarry.  Likewise, a woman who has a substance abuse problem is likely to forego necessary prenatal care out of fear that she could be prosecuted for "knowing" or "reckless" homicide by continuing to use illegal substances while pregnant.

The problems don't stop there.  Women in physically abusive relationships could be criminally liable for not leaving their partner, regardless of their ability to do so safely or securely. Women seeking lawful abortion may be guilty of criminal homicide if her physician failed to follow exact procedures set forth in the law.

For a law designed to discourage illegal abortion, Utah's "Criminal Miscarriage" law will only drive abortion further underground for those who cannot safely seek or afford legal medical abortion care.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, so it takes a lot for Utah to surprise me anymore.  This time there aren't even words for my outrage.

Prosecuting women who seek or obtain abortions for criminal homicide won't make abortion go away - it will only make abortion dangerous and put women's lives at risk.  This law was designed to punish women who would consider having an abortion.  There is simply no other way to look at it.

Speak Out. Fight Back.

Utah's "Criminal Miscarriage" Law passed the Utah House and Senate by overwhelming majorities.  Seriously overwhelming.  The votes were 59-12 and 24-4, respectively, meaning that even if Gov. Herbert were to veto the bill (he won't) the legislature could easily override his veto.

Just in case that wasn't enough, the bill's authors included a provision that with 2/3 members already voting for the bill, the "Criminal Miscarriage" Law would go into effect even if Gov. Herbert doesn't sign the bill into law.

The Utah Planned Parenthood Action Council, the ACLU of Utah, and their allies have been fighting this fight every step of the way.  They succeeded in getting the legislature to drop the much lower legal standard of "negligence," and in light of such overwhelming opposition that success is simply heroic.

So what do we do now?

Utah conservatives love to legislate their twisted version of morality -- but they hate it when the rest of the country calls them out on their bigotry. So that's exactly what we need to do.

More than anything, Utah wants to be liked.  After decades being seen as a backwards, intolerant state, we desperately want to be accepted into the political and cultural mainstream. They hate it when the state itself becomes a national joke.

This is all about PR. The state legislature backed off their proposal to eliminate 12th grade when it was ridiculed in the national press. Dropping a year from high school led to "perception problems" - because of The Onion! - but national media has been silent when the state enacts one of the most dangerous abortion laws in U.S. history.  That silence ends right now.

It's time for everyone to hear about Utah's "Criminal Miscarriage" law.  The media must to cover it.  We must  to start conversations all across the country about what this means for women and girls in Utah - and what this precedent means if (or, more likely, when) other states follow suit. (A similar case in Iowa should be all the warning we need.)

So please...  Recommend this diary.  Post this on Facebook.  Tweet it.  Forward it to five friends.  And ask them all to do the same.

If we turn a blind eye towards Utah's "Criminal Miscarriage" law, their shame will belong to all of us.

Crossposted from Amplify

UPDATE: A colleague at the ACLU pointed out that this law punishes women IN ADDITION to punishing those who perform illegal procedures, rather than instead of.  I inadvertently mischaracterized this in my original post.  Hat tip to the ACLU for the help.  (I also made a few minor edits for typos.)

Originally posted to Amplify Your Voice on Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 07:50 AM PST.

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