the two authors below believe that the new south dakota law that hopes to ban all abortions in that state is much more dangerous than most people had at first believed. some believe that women themselves could be jailed for attempting to self abort. can this possibly be true?
March 6, 2006, 8:20PM
The truth S.D. lawmakers won't tell on abortion law
Pregnant women can, will face possible arrest
By LYNN PALTROW and CHARON ASETOYER
Monday the governor of South Dakota signed into law a bill that would
virtually all abortions in the state. Neither the governor nor any of
law's supporters, however, have been honest about what the cost and
of such a law will be.
Those who authored this bill and those who voted for it want to create
impression that only the people providing the abortions will be
not the women having them. They are not brave enough or honest enough to
admit what is clear: Women will be punished, and they and their families
will suffer if this law goes into effect.
We know that before 1973, when abortion was illegal in most states, that
even if the statute did not specifically provide for the prosecution of
woman who had the abortion, pregnant women could still be arrested under
separate laws permitting the prosecution of those who aid and abet a
Moreover, as Leslie Regan point out in her book, When Abortion was a
many women, while not arrested, were publicly shamed and subjected to
investigations that were in and of themselves a form of punishment.
Undoubtedly, the law's supporters will point to language that
states that "nothing in this Act may be construed to subject the
mother upon whom any abortion is performed or attempted to any criminal
conviction and penalty." The truth is, though, that this particular act
not authorize arrests of pregnant women for such arrest to start taking
South Dakota, like many other states, has adopted numerous laws that
establish the unborn as full legal persons. For example, South Dakota
feticide statute that makes the killing of an "unborn child" at any
prenatal development fetal homicide, manslaughter or vehicular
well as a law that requires doctors to tell women that an abortion ends
life of "a whole, separate, unique living human being." The new law
virtually all abortions states that it is based on the conclusion "that
begins at the time of conception," and that "each human being is totally
unique immediately at fertilization."
If the unborn are legal persons, as numerous South Dakota laws assert,
a pregnant woman who has an abortion can be prosecuted as a murderer
already existing homicide laws.
Farfetched? Not at all.
Prosecutors all over the country have been experimenting with this
for years. In South Carolina, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year
for homicide by child abuse. Why? Because she suffered an unintentional
stillbirth. The prosecutors said she caused the stillbirth by using
yet, they did not charge her with having an illegal abortion - a crime
in South Carolina has a three-year sentence. Rather, they charged and
convicted her of homicide - a crime with a 20- year sentence. They
this conviction in spite of evidence that McKnight's stillbirth was
by an infection.
Thus far, South Carolina is the only state whose courts have upheld the
legitimacy of such prosecutions. But in fact, women in states across the
country, including South Dakota, have already been arrested as child
or murderers - without any new legislation authorizing such arrests. In
Oklahoma, Teresa Hernandez is sitting in jail on first-degree murder
for having suffered an unintentional stillbirth. In Utah, a woman was
charged with murder based on the claim that she caused a stillbirth by
refusing to have a C-section earlier in her pregnancy.
If women are now being arrested as murderers for having suffered
unintentional stillbirths, one should assume that in South Dakota's
world intentional abortions would be punished just as seriously.
South Dakota lawmakers don't want their constituents to know or face the
likely results of their actions. Eric Sterling, president of the
Justice Policy Foundation, notes that federal and state law enforcement
agencies have grown significantly in the past 30 years. He warns that in
states where abortion is recriminalized, people should expect strict
enforcement with the use of stings, informants, wiretaps, computers and
databases to gather evidence and obtain guilty pleas.
Rather than admit that this law will hurt pregnant women and mothers,
Dakota's legislators pretend it protects them. Indeed, the authors of
bill call it "The Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act." In
age we might expect that legislation so-named would address such urgent
women's health problems as breast and cervical cancer, the fact that
South Dakotans are without health insurance, the equivalent of 12
the state's population, or the fact that South Dakota guarantees no paid
maternity leave for the many mothers who must continue working in order
feed their families.
Far from protecting women's health, this law will undermine women's
because women will have abortions for health, family and personal
whether they are legal or not - and it will open the door to the
women themselves. Those who support argue that this is OK, because at
it will protect unborn life. South Dakota's lawmakers, however, should
brave enough to admit that in passing this law they are attacking the
who give that life and ignoring the real life criminal and public health
consequences of such a law.
Paltrow is executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant
in New York City. Asetoyer is executive director of the Native American
Women's Health and Education Resource Center in South Dakota.