RIGHTS CHALLENGED: An Arkansas case leads a series of essays on the subject in the New York Times.


The New York Times editorial board has published
a series of essays on women’s medical rights and the fallout on women from the anti-abortion movements efforts to establish “personhood” at conception. An Arkansas case leads the package of articles.

It concerns the pending prosecution of a Cross County woman, mother of three, who panicked after miscarrying twins and left their remains in a suitcase on a county road. She turned herself in and now faces two felony charges of abuse of a corpse, a crime that carries a three-year minimum sentence. Writes the Times:

Few reasonable people could read the statute under which Keysheonna Reed is charged and not believe she is guilty of violating it — “A person commits abuse of a corpse if, except as authorized by law, he or she knowingly … physically mistreats or conceals a corpse in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities.” But sending this young woman to prison for even three years, and denying her living children a mother, can serve no public good.

It’s hard to find a compelling reason for prosecuting pregnancy loss. Nearly one million known pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth annually, according to government statistics, and, despite improvements in prenatal care and medical technologies, the rate of early stillbirths has stayed stubbornly the same over the past 30 years. The cause is rarely, if ever, definitively found.

The involvement of law enforcement only compounds these traumas. It may deter pregnant women who are miscarrying — and even those with unremarkable pregnancies — from seeking medical help, and it forces health care providers who ought to be caring for their patients to collect evidence. Time and time again, it also jeopardizes the well-being of children left behind when their mothers are jailed.

So what motivates these prosecutions? The reality is that, in many cases, these women are collateral damage in the fight over abortion. As the legal debate over a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy has intensified, so too has the insistence of anti-abortion groups that fertilized eggs and fetuses be granted full rights and the protection of the law — an extreme legal argument with little precedent in American law before the 1970s.

Frustrated by the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, many in the anti-abortion movement hope for a sweeping rollback under a conservative Supreme Court — one that would block access to abortion even in states that protect women’s access to such health services.

This series is not only about abortion. Success of the movement also could spell the end of several forms of birth control. I’d add that birth control of the most common variety is also under attack by the same forces. They press to allow employers to refuse coverage for contraceptives on health policies. The Trump administration favors such a “morals” ground ban.

The efforts contribute to the sad case of Keysheonna Reed and others like her.

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These activists are as unapologetic about pressuring prosecutors to treat miscarriage as murder, if it serves the cause of ending abortion. The fact that they’re targeting women who had no intention of aborting their fetuses — and who are often deeply grieving for a lost pregnancy — is a societal price they appear willing to accept. Provided someone else pays it. The vehicles for these prosecutions tend to be ancient statutes that were enacted for entirely different purposes.

Arkansas, where Keysheonna Reed is being charged, is one of several states that have outlawed the abuse of a corpse for decades. Most likely, the original intention of such regulations was to curb necrophilia or to have legal recourse when a murderer destroyed a body. Today, however, prosecutors consistently turn to them to punish pregnancy loss.

Right after the legislature makes the shotgun the official state weapon and after it throws up more obstacles to comprehensive medical services for women, it perhaps could consider this.

Note to Gov. Asa Hutchinson: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pardoned a woman in a similar case there.