What to expect when you’re expecting: Your fetus may have more legal rights than you

Opinion, NakedLaw, Rights

In the years since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, over 700 pregnant American women have been arrested or forced into unwanted medical procedures based on the “personhood” rights of the embryo or fetus they were carrying.

On the ground that her fetus had a right to life, a judge in Washington, D.C. recently ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section. The judge knew this might kill her, and it did. The fetus did not survive the procedure either.

Visiting a hospital as a pregnant American woman means risking legal action if the state suspects you of negligence (drug or alcohol use, reckless behavior) or intentional act (attempt at self-abortion) which endangers your fetus. In Iowa, for example, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs sought medical care at a hospital. She was arrested for attempted fetal homicide, a favorite charge now commonly levied against American mothers.

Since 2005 another 380 pregnant women have been arrested, incarcerated or involuntarily required to submit to intrusive surgery. Many of these women want to carry their pregnancies to term but antichoice laws severely limit their liberty during their pregnancies.

In Louisiana, a woman who sought medical attention for vaginal bleeding was locked up for over a year on charges of second-degree murder. She had suffered a miscarriage in her first trimester.

Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, but outside the northeast and some western states, abortion rights barely exist anymore. A woman’s constitutional right to choose is now fraught with exceptions and legal restrictions like mandated parental involvement for minors; required preabortion counseling that is medically inaccurate; extended waiting period paired with a requirement that counseling be conducted in-person, thus necessitating two trips to the facility; mandated performance of a non–medically indicated ultrasound prior to an abortion; prohibitions of Medicaid funding; restrictions on insurance coverage; medically inappropriate restrictions on the provision of medication abortion; and onerous requirements on abortion facilities that are not related to patient safety.

More legal restrictions on abortion rights are in effect now than at any time since Roe v. Wade. The majority of American women now live in states with laws that are overtly hostile to their reproductive rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute. No abortion clinic exists at all in 89 percent of the counties in America.

Imagine if our constitutional right to freedom of speech existed only in 11 percent of America. A legal right is only as good as each state’s execution of the law, protecting those who seek to invoke it. As it stands, American women are now increasingly dangerously self-aborting, or even crossing the border to Mexico to terminate their pregnancies there. Around the world, 47,000 women die each year from botched abortions in countries where the procedure is not safe and legal.

How many American women will soon be added to that ignominious list?

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.

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