March 2, 2010 — A bill (HB 12) recently approved by the Utah Legislature that would permit criminal charges against women who seek an illegal abortion "may have opened a loophole" allowing women to be charged with murder if they experience a miscarriage because of "reckless behavior," ABC News reports. The bill was drafted in response to a case of a pregnant teenager who paid a man to beat her, hoping to induce a miscarriage. Charges against the teen were dropped after a judge ruled that her actions were not considered criminal under Utah law.
Critics of the bill argue that it could give prosecutors the ability to file charges against women who miscarry after not wearing seatbelts or not fleeing a domestic violence situation, ABC News reports. Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, "One of the biggest problems of the law is that it's criminalizing women's behavior during pregnancy." He added, "When you start down that path, it's very difficult to draw the line." State Sen. Ross Romero (D), one of only four state senators who voted against the bill, said it "could be misconstrued or construed too aggressively," adding, "We all make bad choices in our lives, and most of them don't come with criminal burdens. This one does, or may, I should say."
The bill also would change the definition of abortion to apply "only to a medical procedure carried out by a physician, or through a substance used under the direction of a physician." Romero said, "This type of attention on the woman, I think, may be part of this whole general assault on a woman's right to choose."
Gov. Undecided on Signing Bill
The bill is awaiting action by Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who has not publicly indicated his position. Herbert has until March 8 to either sign or veto the bill before it automatically becomes law. Angie Welling, Herbert's spokesperson, said in an e-mail that the governor "understands that the intent of the bill is not to criminalize miscarriage, nor to restrict a woman's ability to seek a legal abortion." Herbert "is also aware that concerns exist about possible unintended consequences of the legislation," Welling wrote, adding, "That will be key to his analysis of this legislation, as it is with all other bills with which he is presented" (Netter, ABC News, 3/1).
CNN's "Campbell Brown" on Monday included a discussion with state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R), the bill's sponsor, and CNN legal analyst Lisa Bloom about the bill. Bloom said she believes the bill is unconstitutional because it would criminalize abortion at all stages of pregnancy. In addition, she said it would give prosecutors broad leeway to charge women who experience miscarriages, a notion Wimmer denied (Brown, "Campbell Bill," CNN, 3/2).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership