I read an article entitled “Reporting Miscarriages, Criminalizing Pregnant Women’s Bodies” on Project Censored. There is a bill being proposed in Kansas that would require women who suffer miscarriages to report them to the state. Originally intended to improve the state’s current stillborn protocol to provide closure to the families who lost the baby, the bill has come under heavy ethical fire. Firstly, requiring the families by law to report the loss of their child is insensitive at such an emotional time and can be seen as an invasion of privacy. But a second, more provocative ethical question arises from the fact that hundreds of women have been held criminally liable for the deaths of their stillborns because of unhealthy behaviors during pregnancy.
It is true that smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and exposure to hazardous chemcials during pregnancy can be the cause of a stillbirth, so in some cases, the woman could justifiably be held responsible for her miscarriage. However, what if the mother endured an unhealthy pregnancy because of factors outside of her control? What if she was too poor to afford proper nourishment or healthcare, or what if an abusive partner physically abused her and her unborn child to the point of its death? The obscurity of this line that defines a woman’s responsibility for the fetus’s death inevitably invites the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate as there is an argument for the rights of the mother versus the rights of the stillborn child, and the bill has, as you can probably imagine, been advocated by Kansas’s pro-life constituents.
I think, regardless of what the result of these prosecutions would be, that the required reporting of the miscarriage is unethical. Forcing the families to go through a formal, bureaucratic process to accept and report such an incredibly heartbreaking and emotional event creates excessive and unnecessarily trauma. If you add that to their stress and anxiety of having to possibly be criminally prosecuted, that would be even further damaging to the mother’s emotional and mental health in her already fragile state. It is also a breach of privacy.
From a consequentialist perspective, this bill is entirely unethical. It would create great distress to the families of the miscarried child, and the only part who would benefit in an abstract/legal/rights-oriented sense would be the fetus, who is by nature of the situation unable to realize those benefits. While I think it is ineffective to consider this bill through the lens of consequentialism, because protecting the rights of the “victim” of the miscarriage does have merit and value, I still think that overall the bill is unethical based on the points I outlined above. How do you all weigh in?