Your Womb is a Crime Scene


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?

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5 responses to “Your Womb is a Crime Scene

  1. I too agree that making families report a miscarriage is unethical. One question I have for you is about how you associated this issue with consequentialism. You say that the only benefit would go to the fetus. Do you think any benefit would come from improving the state’s current stillborn protocol? This was the main intention for the requirement to report a miscarriage and I do think if protocol was improved it would provide benefit to some families. I do not, however, think this extra benefit outweighs the total distress of the families, which would determine that this requirement is still unethical under consequentialism.

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    • That is true, I should have acknowledged that the bill would bring comfort to some families as a way to commemorate their stillborn child. That being said, it is my opinion that it would bring solace to fewer families than it would bring stress and distress to. I think the families who really want to have a tangible memorialization of their child would want to do so themselves in a more personal and meaningful way, and a formal government process and document would not be as meaningful. But this is just my opinion. What do you think?

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      • I agree with you, Maddie, that the negatives outweigh the positives. While commemorating the still born child is an interesting point, as you said, more families would be distressed by having to divulge such private information to people they don’t know. I know that many families even keep pregnancies hidden from the rest of their immediate family due to fear and embarrassment (not that they should be embarrassed) of miscarriages.

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  2. Good use of consequenialism. At the same time, the whole who and what “counts” always makes consequentialism less cut-and-dry then it seems. Hard-core pro-lifers might say the harm to the fetus should be counted.

    So, in some way, any application of consequentialism relies on a political and ethical process of determining who and what “counts” in the attempt to measure.

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  3. I think that law is completely ridiculous and I agree with you, Maddie. No person has the right to tell you to report the miscarriage of your unborn child. In my mind, this is another typical case of men thinking they can dictate and rule on women and their bodies (if a woman or women started this bill than I am wrong). It’s like when the government tries to regulate birth control or abortion. How far is too far when it comes to this matter?

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