Georgia’s HB 481 law will not only make abortion illegal, but coudl means mothers face prosecution for miscarriages and stillbirths.
The HB 481 law that was just passed in Georgia declares “a fetus should be treated as a full person from the moment of conception and that they deserve full legal recognition.” Full legal recognition means that the fetus is recognized as a “natural person” according to state laws. Therefore, anyone who harms it while still in the whom could be punished for criminal wrongdoing – this could include women who miscarry as well as those who seek abortions.
The law is expected to be enacted until 2020. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already jumped in to try to derail this from happening and the organization is confident that they can overturn such a law.
Planned Parenthood reported that the laws, as as they are currently written, would be intended to punish physicians performing abortions rather than women who seek them out. Although, changes to the legislation could (and, again, it’s a long shot) mean a woman would actually be sentenced to death for abortion. This is because deeming a fetus as a “natural person” means that the mother carrying it who opts to abort has essentially committed murder.
It’s also not so far-fetched to believe that there could be legal consquences for miscarriages, and that miscarriages could be investigated to determine whether they were intentional. The new law in Georgia poses the very real threat that women who miscarry could become the subjects of lengthy legal disputes.
In fact, miscarriages have already been the subject of criminal cases for some time. In 2016, a woman who miscarried two fetuses at 24 weeks was charged with “abuse of a corpse,” a class C felony that carries up to a ten-year prison term in the state of Arkansas. Her bail was set at $50,000 and she’s still awaiting trial. In New York, a woman who was not wearing her seatbelt during a car crash, which the jury felt caused her unborn fetus to die, was sentenced up to nine years in prison. The ruling was ultimately thrown out on appeal by New York’s high court. Another woman in Virginia was sentenced to five months in jail after she gave birth to a stillborn at home for concealing a dead body and in 2017 an Ohio woman was arrested after reporting that she gave birth to a stillborn.
David Avallone, the son of the abortion rights activist Fran Avallone, recently tweeted, “My mother was big in the abortion rights movement. In the early 1960s, when abortion was still illegal, she had a miscarriage at around six months. So she’s covered in blood, with a dead fetus between her legs, and the doctor told her she couldn’t be cleaned up yet. GUESS WHY? A full examination had to be done, and presented to a POLICE OFFICER, to prove my mom hadn’t committed Manslaughter. Imagine that. Worst moment of your life, in pain, covered in blood, dead fetus. PLEASE WAIT LIKE THAT WHILE WE TREAT YOU LIKE A CRIMINAL.”
The medical community and parents alike have voiced their concern, indicating that prosecution by law enforcement in such cases may deter would-be mothers from seeking prenatal care. It is also likely to cause higher levels of anxiety amongst pregnant women, which is never good.