As I start to write this article I have the uncontrollable urge to ask Utah: are you kidding me?
I was alerted yesterday by Amplify that Utah’s congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that will criminalize women for miscarriages if it is determined the pregnancy ended as a result of “intentional, knowing, or reckless behavior.”
The bill is riddled with clauses that leave the state wide open to re-colonize the body of Utah women. One cannot help but think of The Handmaid’s Tale when reading about these new laws.
Among the highlights of the new legislation, the bill applies the legal standard of an “intentional, knowing or reckless act of the woman” as punishable as criminal homicide. The law also removes immunity from women who seek illegal abortions and specifically calls out women “upon whom a partial birth abortion is performed.”
This legislation is so potentially destructive to women’s civil rights that the ACLU has taken up the case. In their letter to Utah Governor Herbet, the ACLU outlines some good points about this absurd new law: under these laws, a woman not wearing a seat belt could be charged with reckless homicide if a crash occurs. Likewise, a woman could be charged for refusing certain prenatal care if harm later reaches the fetus.
To understand just how insidious this legislation is, consider this: Utah law requires that parents give written permission for unmarried children under 18 to receive information about family planning services.
Also consider the fact that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. In a state where women still get married under 20, when the risk is even higher, how is this new law going to be enforced?
Many of us can predict the damage this legislation will do to women of color. African American women in particular have historically born the brunt of the legislation meant to criminalize woman for drug use during pregnancy (for a comprehensive history check out Dorothy Robert’s Killing the Black Body).
Besides racial background, women seen as deviant are sure to become targets of the new laws. I know from personal experience that deviance of any kind makes an individual stand out like a sore thumb in this religious community. Reputation, social status, image, and race are sure to play a huge role in the prosecution of this new law. That is, should it be enforced.
Despite their record for ass-backwards legislation and lack of regard for the rights of non-White, non-male, non-upper class, non-Mormons among us, this state does not operate in a vacuum. There is already talk that some crazies in Iowa are going to push for similar legislation.
Are we going to allow this new brand of misogynistic politics to become a national trend?
Will Neville, author of the Amplify article and who is from Utah, believes all we must do is refuse to be quiet about this: “Utah conservatives love to legislate their twisted version of morality — but they hate it when the rest of the country calls them out on their bigotry. So that’s exactly what we need to do.”
I take heed to Neville’s plea that everyone who reads about this legislation informs someone else about it. Utah deserves to be nationally shamed for this appalling legislation.
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.