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Homicide Law For Pregnant Women Fails, But The Future Is bleak

I used to think it absurd and the stuff of fiction that a president would foment a coup d’etat. Now I know better. I once thought it absurd and the grist for dystopian novels to charge a woman with murder if she had an abortion. Now I know better.
The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade will send the abortion question back to the states and there is no telling where it might lead. A Louisiana plan to charge homicide in cases of abortion was nearly approved before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Now, with the right wing emboldened beyond their wildest dreams with the destruction of a woman’s right to have an abortion, the most draconian penalties are hardly unimaginable any more.
As with many other issues, the road to further attacks on women gained momentum when trump was campaigning for president in 2016, and said that women who seek abortions should be subject to “some form of punishment.”
A May survey by the Pew Research Center showed that many people agree with trump. The survey showed that men are more likely than women to favor penalties for the woman or doctor in situations where abortion is illegal. About half of men or 52 percent say women should face a penalty, while just 43 percent of women say the same. Among U.S. adults overall, 14 percent say women should serve jail time if they have an abortion in a situation where it is illegal, while 16 percent say they should receive a fine or community service and 17 percent say they are not sure what the penalty should be.
Republicans are considerably more likely than Democrats to say both women and doctors should face penalties including jail time. For example, 21 percent of Republicans say a woman who had the abortion should face jail time, while among Democrats, 8 percent say the woman should be jailed.

In Catholicism, a woman who has an abortion is automatically excommunicated as having abortion is a mortal sin and also a crime in canon law. In 2016, Pope Francis granted parish priests authority to absolve the sin of abortion and lift the penalty of excommunication before a woman could confess.
The Louisiana bill, introduced in May, gave immediate attention to an otherwise, obscure, right wing, conspiracist lawmaker, Republican state Rep. Danny McCormick, whose district includes an area known as Mount Gilead Road. Perversely, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” focuses on the totalitarian republic of Gilead, a patriarchal police state led by racist Christian dominionists where women are subjugated and the law is structured around a regime of forced pregnancies and indentured servitude.
McCormick’s bill would have redefined a person to include an unborn child from “the moment of fertilization.” It would make in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments and some forms of birth control a crime, and prosecute women who get abortions for murder.The draft bill had no exceptions for rape, incest, or the protection of the life of the mother.
“We can’t wait on the Supreme Court,” said McCormick, who co-authored the bill with Brian Gunter, pastor of First Baptist Church in Livingston, La. “The taking of a life is murder, and it is illegal. Louisiana law currently fails to provide equal protection for human life. Persons are deemed unworthy of legal protection for no other reason than they are not yet born.”
Gunter said the time is now to end the abortion debate.
“This is a bill to immediately end abortion in the state of Louisiana. No compromises, no more waiting,” Gunter said. “The bloodshed in our land is so great we have a duty … to protect the least of these among us.”
Apparently Gunter was not referring to protection of the pregnant woman.
The bill was released from the Louisiana state House Appropriations Committee committee in a 7–2 vote but it was withdrawn after it generated widespread condemnation. But that was before Roe v. Wade was history.
Louisiana is one of several states that has a so-called trigger ban in place, where a law automatically took effect after the Roe v. Wade decision which bans a medical provider from performing an abortion procedure or providing drugs intended to induce an abortion.
McCormick, an oil man who lives in Oil City, La., has been a Louisiana legislator since 2020, and has a history of using bombastic language and violent images to prove his far right points of view. In 2020, he posted, then deleted an anti-Semitic meme that was rebuked by at least one member of his own party. The meme showed an image of a London mural that depicted a bearded man counting money and others sitting at a board game being held up by the backs of black people.
He also has been staunchly against mandatory masks and other measures to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. Armed with a blowtorch and a chainsaw, McCormick’s YouTube ad took great umbrage with the government curtailing rights, even if it meant saving lives, somewhat contradictory to his bill to classify abortion as homicide.
“If the government has the power to force you to wear a mask, they can force you to stick a needle in your arm against your will. They can put a microchip in you. They can even make you take the mark,” McCormick warned, referring to a far-right obsession with the “Mark of the Beast.” The “Mark of the Beast” on the hand or forehead demonstrates that the holder belongs to the Empire of the Antichrist. Those who get the final Mark are branding themselves and showing their allegiance to the Beast, while at the same time signifying their absolute rebellion against God.
“People who don’t wear a mask will soon be painted as the enemy, just as they did to Jews in Nazi Germany,” he said.
Pastor Gunter is a Southern Baptist fundamentalist from Pollock, a small town that was allegedly a “sundown town” where Blacks were not allowed out after sundown. Gunter led the move to declare Louisiana as the nation’s first “Sanctuary City for the Unborn.” The designation means that possession of abortion medication is a criminal offense and that it is illegal to “aid or abet an abortion performed on a resident of Pollock… regardless of where the abortion is or will be performed.”
Southern Baptist churches, like Gunter’s First Baptist Church of Pollock, claim a total of 13.7 million members but church officials say the actual attendance at church services was closer to 5 million people in 2021. Gunter, the Outreach Director for Louisiana Right to Life and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Pollock, received the Shammah’s Courage Award in 2020 during the 2020 Louisiana Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.
The push to declare that women who get abortions are murderers is still a far right, fringe belief but one to keep an eye on. Taking the lead in the effort is a group that call themselves abortion “abolitionists” and the leading voice is Pastor Jeff Durbin, a 44-year-old Arizona pastor, national karate champ and ecstasy addict until he found Jesus. Durbin joined in the effort to gain support for the Louisiana resolution.
As leader of the Apologia Church in Tempe, Ariz., with a congregation of around 700 people, Durbin also hosts “Apologia Studios,” a YouTube channel focusing on ending abortion. The channel has more than 300,000 subscribers. Abolitionist views also have grown in the ultraconservative wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
Resistance to “the question of whether or not people who murder their children in the wombs are guilty is going to have to be something we have to overcome, because women are still going to be killing their children in the womb.” said Durbin, who started his group, “End Abortion Now,” in 2017.
There are no laws proclaiming as murderers pregnant women who received abortions but prosecutors have used so-called feticide laws to charge women with inducing abortion or experiencing miscarriage. National Advocates for Pregnant Women reported that about 1,300 women have faced such charges or arrests since 2006.
A total of 38 states have feticide laws, originally to protect women who lose their unborn children because of domestic violence. The laws do not apply to legally induced abortions.
The genesis of feticide laws came in 2004, when Congress enacted the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which recognizes the “child in utero” as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of the 68 existing federal crimes of violence.
Examples of feticide cases involved Purvi Patel, Rennie Gibbs and Bei Bei Shuai. Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indiana woman, was sentenced in 2016 to 20 years in prison for fetal homicide. She was the first woman in the country to be convicted under a feticide law for having an abortion. Patel allegedly bought pills from an overseas source to induce an abortion but no drugs were found in her system and the government and Patel’s lawyer disagreed about how far along was the pregnancy and whether the baby was born alive or stillborn.
Gibbs was charged with murder in Mississippi in 2006 for having a stillborn daughter while addicted to cocaine. The judge in the case later ruled that the charges be dismissed. In 2011, Shuai was charged in Indiana with murder and feticide after the pregnant woman attempted suicide and her unborn baby died. In 2013 Shuai pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness and was released, having been sentenced to time served. Another case of feticide was in 2018 in Colorado, when Chris Watts was charged after he murdered his wife and her unborn son, Nico.
A 2013 study by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) documented around 1,700 cases of arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of physical liberty of women between 1973 and 2020.
Five cases cited by NAPW included Regina McKnight, a 21-year-old African American from South Carolina who suffered a stillbirth. The state said that McKnight’s use of cocaine was the cause of the stillbirth and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison. It was later proven that the stillbirth was the result of an infection and the conviction was overturned but not until McKnight had served eight years in prison.
Laura Pemberton, a white woman, was in active labor at her home in Florida but doctors believed that she was risking the the life of her unborn child by attempting to have a vaginal birth after having had a previous cesarean surgery. A doctor recommended a second cesarean surgery and a sheriff went to Pemberton’s home, arrested her, strapped her legs together. She was taken to a hospital where an emergency hearing determined the state had an interest in protecting the fetus still inside her. A judge then ordered Pemberton to have the cesarean surgery.
Rachael Lowe, a 20-year-old pregnant woman, voluntarily went to Waukesha Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin to seek help for her addiction to the opiate Oxycontin. Hospital staff responded by reporting Lowe to authorities under Wisconsin’s “cocaine mom” law, a statute that allows the state to arrest a pregnant woman if it is believed that the “expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs.” Lowe was held in a hospital psychiatric ward for 12 days where she was prescribed numerous medications. A judge later ruled that Lowe’s condition did not pose a health risk to the unborn baby.
Martina Greywind, a 28-eight-year-old homeless Native American woman from Fargo, N.D., was around 12 weeks pregnant when she was charged with reckless endangerment because she allegedly inhaled paint fumes that imperiled her unborn baby. After around two weeks in jail, Greywind was released and had an abortion and the charge was dismissed.
Michelle Marie Greenup, a 26-year-old African American woman from Louisiana went to a hospital because of bleeding and stomach pain. Doctors suspected that she had recently given birth and contacted authorities. Greenup “confessed” that the baby was born alive and died because she had failed to provide it with proper care. Greenup was charged with second- degree murder but her lawyer showed medical records that the fetus could not have been older than between 11 and 15 weeks and that prior the to the miscarriage Greenup had been given Depo-Provera, a contraceptive injection that may cause a miscarriage if administered to a woman who is already pregnant. Greenup was released after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor violation of a public health law that regulates disposal of human remains.

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer