Criminal law

Adversaries of abortion twist criminal laws to press for the personality of the fetus


What the court did in effect eliminate an attempt by a man convicted of stabbing his pregnant girlfriend to death to have one of his murder convictions quashed because the knife did not actually touch the woman’s womb.

No new law was established here: the court followed a previous precedent that the loss of a viable fetus through violence could be charged with murder. But that didn’t stop headlines promoting Massachusetts’ admission that an attack that terminates a pregnancy is murder, both in religious publications such as the Journal of Christian Broadcasting Network And more mainstream outlets like Bloomberg Law.

“It makes perfect sense for someone to kill an unborn child to be charged with murder. It just doesn’t make sense to call that ‘choice’ when a mother does the killing,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Matt Staffer is quoted in the statement. His bottom line: “Abortion is murder because killing a child is the same whether it’s done by a violent actor or a doctor in a white lab coat.”

This has become a growing slogan among anti-abortion activists since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year.

Their goal is to use court rulings like the Supreme Judicial Council decision to paint a picture of a nation full of states, even deep blue ones like Massachusetts, that treat unborn children as persons under the law.

The Gulf state, of course, does not. Not only does the state’s Roe law protect the possibility of abortion up to 24 weeks, but in the wake of Dobbs’ decision last year, new legislation was enacted to protect patients and providers — including those who come from out of state — from lawsuits and criminal liability.

Criminal laws intended to punish perpetrators of violent crimes should not be confused with the legal recognition of fetal identity. But even though they know the difference, anti-abortion groups are engaged in a messaging campaign – aimed at the general public and the courts – based on their disingenuous claim that there is a societal consensus that life begins before birth. This is the first step in pushing for their next goal: a nationwide abortion ban.

And they know that Congress is unlikely to do so through legislation. So anti-abortion groups plan to use litigation.

“They hope eventually this will come from the courts,” said Marie Ziegler, a law professor at the university. University of California Davis and expert on abortion law.

These activists hope that state courts, and eventually the Supreme Court, will embrace the idea of ​​a fetal personality.

“They’re trying to help build this case for the long term and lay the groundwork for deciding on the character in the future,” Ziegler said. “Maybe not tomorrow. It took decades (to overturn) Roe v. Wade. We have every reason to think that people who oppose abortion are happy to play the long game, because they already have.

Fetusicide laws have been enacted in states across the country for the past half century, often in response to horrific domestic assaults on pregnant women. While this violence is rightly outrageous, reproductive rights advocates have long warned that these laws, even if passed to ensure that abusers of pregnant women are punished, could easily be used to prosecute pregnant women and abortion providers.

It is truly unpalatable to call for the repeal of feticide laws in order to protect reproductive rights. But this does not mean that the solution is impossible.

“I think there could be an answer in civil law,” said Dana Sussman, acting director of the advocacy group Pregnancy Justice, citing movements to replace criminal laws for fetal killing with ones that would allow a pregnant person or family to prosecute violent criminals who cause fetal death. . missed pregnancies.

But Sussman admits such a move will not be easy.

“The American legal system is not equipped to deal with transformative justice or restorative justice,” Sussman said. “Trying to fix this system is basically impossible.”

Meanwhile, those who defend the fetal personality will do everything they can to exploit this system. It’s the new long game, and anti-abortion activists have proven they can be as patient as they are stubborn.

Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a columnist for The Globe. may be accessed at follow her @kimberly atkins.


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