June 20, 2024 11:22 pm
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Abortion Bans Threaten Jail Time for Pregnant People

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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.

Pennsylvania’s feticide law is similar to the one used to charge an Iowa woman with a felony for falling down the stairs. Farah Diaz-Tello, Senior Counsel and Legal Director for If/When/How says that it can be used to charge pregnant people for other behaviors too, including “using a controlled substance, refusing caesarian [sic] surgery (or) being involved in a car accident not wearing a seatbelt.” Advocates worry that cases like these will become more common in a post-Roe America, particularly in states with total abortion bans. 

Currently, Pennsylvania allows abortions up to 24 weeks, but Republican legislative leaders in the state have said they would like to change that. Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R) told the Lancaster Patriot that, “If we get the opportunity to pass such legislation [outlawing all abortions], I do think it would pass and I would personally support it. What we need is a different governor.” State Senator Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, has said he opposes abortions even in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the parent is at risk. If Pennsylvania passes a total abortion ban, the feticide law may be used to prosecute parents for experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth.

The Republican-controlled legislature recently moved to put an amendment onto the ballot. The amendment would, among other things, say that there is no right to an abortion in the state constitution. If the amendment passes, it will be nearly impossible to challenge an abortion ban in the Pennsylvania state courts.