Death certificates for aborted fetuses

Tennessee proposes a frightening new abortion bill.

Published February 15, 2007 7:16PM (EST)

In the abortion wars, the vise grip is tightening around our wombs in a way that even the most apathetic among us should feel. (And I'll admit, sometimes I count myself as among the sleepy-eyed believers that Roe v. Wade will always be there to protect my right to choose.) Yesterday the Associated Press noticed that Tennessee legislators have introduced a bill that would require clinics to create death certificates for aborted fetuses and would in all likelihood generate a public record of women who have had abortions.

The bogus explanation from Rep. Stacey Campfield, the bill's sponsor, was that the law would allow the state to keep track of how many abortions are performed. But the state already collects data on the number of abortions, even singling out those that involve fetuses over 22 weeks. The only possible difference between this practice and the issuing of death certificates is noxious symbolism and creating a public record of women who have had abortions.

Last week, also via the AP, the state of Texas condemned to death a man for killing his girlfriend and her fetus. It represented the first death sentence in response to fetal homicide, following a 2003 Texas law that changed the definition of the word "individual" to include an "unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth." Just Texas being Texas? Actually, no. At least 36 states have homicide laws that define a fetus as a person, including of course, Tennessee. (For a full list, check out the site of the National Conference of State Legislatures.)

And if Roe should ever get overturned and lead to the unfathomable idea that women who have had abortions could be accused of feticide, there would be a ready-made list of women to persecute if not prosecute. Still sound too far-fetched? Let's not forget Regina McKnight, a 22-year-old woman who is serving a 12-year sentence in South Carolina for homicide after suffering an unintentional stillbirth. When cocaine was found in her bloodstream she was successfully prosecuted under the state's viable-fetus law. Let's face it, drop these two laws in a pot and stir over hellfire and you've got a cracker recipe for vigilantism.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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