The Republican Party is on the road to mass lockups for women who have miscarriages

The GOP has embraced the American “Christian” version of fundamentalist Islamic law

Published May 19, 2019 1:30PM (EDT)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Getty/Win McNamee)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Getty/Win McNamee)

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of more than 25 books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

The GOP’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is on its way.

During Mike Pence’s first year as governor of Indiana, his state put a young woman in prison for having a miscarriage, alleging that she’d taken an abortion-causing drug. Purvi Patel didn’t have a trace of such a drug in her system, but Pence’s state sentenced her to 20 years in prison anyway. Just a few years earlier, Indiana had also held Bei Bei Shuai for 435 days in the brutal maximum security Marion County prison, facing 45 years to life for trying to kill herself and, in the process, causing the death of her 33-week fetus.

Utah charged 28-year-old Melissa Ann Rowland with murder because she refused a C-section, preferring vaginal birth for her twins, and one of them died. Sixteen-year-old Rennie Gibbs was charged by the state of Mississippi with “depraved heart murder” when her baby was born dead because his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck: her crime was that she had cocaine in her bloodstream, according to prosecutors. Angela Carder was ordered to have a C-section to deliver her baby before she died of cancer; both she and the baby died from the procedure.

These cases have exploded in recent years, as the GOP and the nation’s law enforcement system have embraced the American “Christian” version of fundamentalist Islamic law which dictates that women are the property of men and their principal purpose for existence is reproduction.

According to Duke University’s Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, there were 413 documented—and probably thousands of lesser-known — cases of women being prosecuted for having miscarriages or attempting abortions between the time Roe v. Wadebecame the law of the land and 2005.

Between 2005 and 2014, the Guttmacher Institute documented another 380 cases.

Georgia just passed a law, signed by Republican Brian Kemp (the man who ran his own election against Stacey Abrams), which puts any woman in that state who has a miscarriage at risk of 30 years in prison or even the death penalty. Other states are in line, and in those states, like Georgia, with the death penalty, many are proposing legislation to put women who have abortions to death.

And we know what happens when abortion is totally banned. Romania, with a population slightly smaller than Florida, banned abortion (although, unlike Alabama, they allowed a provision for rape, incest, and congenital abnormalities) in 1966.

While wealthy Romanian women were still able to get abortions by traveling to other nearby nations, that option was not available to poor women. At least 10,000 women died of botched illegal abortions (that’s the official number; the real number is probably 10 times that) before Nicolae Ceaușescu was deposed and the law was repealed.

Few families were spared; maternal death was higher than any other country in Europe by a factor of ten and poverty exploded.

When the country was opened to the world, over 170,000 children were found languishing in brutal orphanages, ignored, emaciated and handcuffed to cribs. Nobody knows how many died in the decades before that.

When Nicolae Ceaușescu was deposed in 1989, his own soldiers gleefully machine-gunned him and his wife to death. The same penalty Georgia would inflict on its women who get abortions.

Given that one out of four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, laws like Georgia’s and Alabama’s may well require a substantial addition to our police systems.

Who is going to monitor all those pregnancies, and examine the women and the remains of their miscarriages to make sure there wasn’t a drug or self-inflicted injury involved?

Who is going to make sure that women who are pregnant are immediately brought to the attention of the authorities if they’re reluctant to do so themselves?

When Governor Mike Pence proudly signed Indiana’s abortion restrictions in 2016, women across the state noted that it required that miscarried fetuses (along with aborted fetuses) be “interred [buried in a cemetery] or cremated,” no matter whether the pregnancy was six or sixteen weeks along when the miscarriage happened.

It led to a movement across the state called “Periods for Pence,” in which women tweeted or called the governor’s office to tell him when their periods had started and ended, so the state wouldn’t mistake a normal menstrual period for a miscarriage.

The press treated it as funny at the time; nobody’s laughing now.

The Republicans could borrow the name from Saudi Arabia for their police who scour the streets looking for badly behaving women; the “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” would hire a few million upright “Christian” men who would each take responsibility for monitoring the menstrual cycles of 50 or 100 women.

Like in Saudi Arabia, it would be a real job-creator, boosting the economy while ensuring public morality.

Thanks to the internet, each woman who’s the ward of a particular commissioner could use modern technology to keep it all simple; like the Saudi Absher app that women use in that country to obtain a man’s permission to leave the house or date, American women could simply swipe “period started” and “period finished normally” when those events happen.

This way, the commissioners could limit the unpleasant work of physically checking women’s uteruses or showing up with a pregnancy test to only once a year (more frequently for “high-risk” women, less frequently for “low-risk” ones).

No doubt Facebook could help out with a handy algorithm based on women’s online activity.

My wife Louise and I have had three children and one miscarriage, which was an emotionally gutting experience. It pains me to even write this article, and particularly to present the idea above.

But if the GOP keeps going down this road, this very well may be where we end up.

By Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of "The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America" and more than 25 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

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Abortion All Salon Independent Media Institute Miscarriage News & Politics Women's Rights