July 15, 2024 1:13 pm

National News

Abortion Bans Threaten Jail Time for Pregnant People

Credit: iStock

Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, pregnant people could now be sent to prison if they experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. Advocates for abortion access, like the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), have been tracking cases where pregnant people were charged with a crime because of a miscarriage or stillbirth. NAPW found that between 1973 and 2020, there were over 1,700 cases where pregnant women were arrested and prosecuted because of a miscarriage or abortion, with 1,331 of those cases happening after 2006. Defenders of abortion bans note that nearly all of the laws say that a parent cannot be charged for getting an abortion. However, NAPW has shown that police and prosecutors are using related laws to put parents who experience a miscarriage in prison anyways. Recently, an Alabama woman was charged with manslaughter after being shot in the stomach and losing her pregnancy. Another woman in Iowa was charged with feticide after she fainted and fell down the stairs. Women have also been jailed for “abusing a corpse” and “hiding a birth” when they didn’t follow the correct reporting procedure after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Arizona has a law stating it is illegal to abandon or conceal a corpse. A similar law was used in Arkansas to charge a mother with a felony after she experienced a stillbirth. She panicked and failed to follow the proper procedure for her stillborn twins. As a result, she is being charged for the same crime as necrophiles and grave diggers. The same could happen to a parent in Arizona if they also panic, or if they aren’t aware of the rules. In Virginia, a mother experienced a miscarriage and chose to bury her child in her back yard, unaware that doing so would be considered a felony offense. She posted about her miscarriage on social media and had a cross marking the grave, but was still charged with “concealing a birth” because she did not report the event correctly. A parent who did the same in Arizona could be charged with concealing a corpse.

Advocates are concerned about parents being criminalized in Arizona because the Republican-controlled state legislature has recently passed aggressive, unconstitutional laws around abortion and “fetal personhood.” A law passed in 2021 said that the rights of personhood began at conception, placing pregnant people into a complex web of criminal liabilities. Legal papers filed by Attorney General Brnovich admitted that it was “anyone’s guess” if state courts would allow pregnant people to be charged with crimes like child abuse or murder based on the outcome of their pregnancy. A judge blocked that portion of the law as unconstitutional on July 11, but it shows that the Republican-led legislature is prepared to criminalize pregnancy in unprecedented ways.