Making Pregnancy Safer While Keeping Abortion Legal

Are the two NC Senate bills that make assaulting a pregnant woman even more of an offense (legally I mean, it’s obviously totally offensive by any standard) just back-door attempts to make abortion illegal? I don’t think they are, but if they are, they’re still a few steps away from what would be needed to prosecute a woman for aborting her child. I think in the spirit of openness and willingness to treat people on both sides of the abortion debate with respect, we need to really look at these bills before we reject them. Oops, before we make up our minds.

You can read S13, which would increase the criminal charges for assaulting a woman more than 20 weeks into her pregnancy, and S26, which would increase the charge for assaulting any pregnant woman, for yourself. Both bills specifically state that acts by a pregnant woman which result in miscarriage or stillbirth are not covered by the law. For all you sticklers out there, note that “stillbirth”, as defined by the current law, is death not caused by abortion, which is legal under another statute. Wait, I’m confused again. I think abortion will be safe and legal even if one of these new bills passes. Is it wrong to consider the assault of a pregnant woman especially reprehensible, akin to crimes against the very young, very old, mentally or physically infirm, or handicapped? Crimes against those people are already considered especially egregious offenses under the law, and I’m not sure I’d keep pregnant women out of there. Is it not commonly held that assaulting a pregnant woman is different from assaulting another healthy, hearty able-bodied gal? We know that two often domestic violence can be made worse by the strain of impending parenthood, and is all the more tragic when that happens. Upping the penalties for such assaults can’t be so bad. Is that not a community standard we can agree on?

I would however, draw the line at calling the death of a fetus murder, as some anti-choice advocates call for. That is completely cracked. No matter how awful and heartbreaking it is for the families of murdered pregnant women to lose the babies those women were carrying, it’s not the same as losing a living, independent person. Fetuses are not people, whether you consider them alive or not. People don’t go about their business on life support machines powered by fellow humans. They just don’t. Fetuses do. Until they are breathing independently of their mothers so much can still go wrong. We live in a time when so many of us are able to take the miracle of a healthy baby for granted, but we’re fooling ourselves. Something can easily go wrong, and too often does. Equating the death of a fetus with murder, while it may be satisfying emotionally, is just wrong. Not only could it lead to the end of safe and legal abortion – very much every woman’s right – but it could lead to criminal penalties against doctors who often, usually blamelessly, attend the women who suffer stillbirths or other complications fatal to their babies. It could lead to criminal charges against a woman who eats listeria-laden unpasteurized cheese and loses her baby late in her pregnancies. No, that’s not to the common good. Let’s not, as the young people say, go there.


  1. James

    February 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I’m not aware of laws that “increase the charge” associated with injuring old people, people in wheelchairs, blind people, mentally challenged people, babies, people with heart conditions, etc., etc.

    I don’t buy it.

  2. Kate

    February 5, 2009 at 11:42 am

    James – actually there is a special law for “assault on a handicapped person” -14.32.1, a handicapped person is defined as someone with “(1) A physical or mental disability, such as decreased use of arms or legs, blindness, deafness, mental retardation or mental illness; or (2) Infirmity.”

    14-32.3 covers assault of the elderly, and 14-33 covers assault of women and children. All of these carry greater punishments than just a simple assault.

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