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Rev. Debra Haffner Headshot

Criminal Miscarriage, or Miscarriage of Justice?

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Seventeen years ago this spring, I miscarried a very wanted pregnancy at 16 weeks. I had joyfully announced my pregnancy to my church community the day before, when I woke up with cramping and spotting. As the doctor performed the sonogram, we saw that the fetus had never developed past an eight-week embryo. We grieved for the baby who was not to be born that following fall. As I searched for answers to what had happened, I remembered that, right around eight weeks, I had used a hot tub several times at a day spa. I've never known if that was the cause of my pregnancy loss.

Under new legislation passed by the Utah state legislature (and awaiting the governor's signature), I might have been charged with criminal homicide. As unbelievable as that sounds, the proposed law states, "the killing or attempted killing of a live unborn child in a manner that is not abortion shall be punished as...criminal homicide." Any "reckless act of the woman" that results in fetal death is criminal homicide. According to the ACLU, "reckless" could mean not wearing a seatbelt, should a car accident result in miscarriage. It could mean that women in physically abusive relationships who did not leave but ended up losing their fetuses in an altercation could be charged. It could mean ignoring the warnings for pregnant women not to go on roller coasters or in hot tubs.

Every woman's pregnancy is different. Despite medical advances, one in three pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Looking for reasons to prosecute grieving mothers is another, reprehensible example of blaming the victim and ignoring the pain that women (and couples) suffer in pregnancy loss.

There's a lot of that going around these days. I'm reminded of those who claim the people of Haiti called the devastation on themselves because of their religious beliefs. Earlier this week, Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall implied that women who have abortions are punished with a greater likelihood of having a child with a disability later on. He said, "The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children...In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord." He went on to say that women would face a "special punishment" for having an abortion.

There has been understandable outrage about Marshall's statement, and he's trying to deny that's what he said. But it points to a misuse of sacred text and science. Surely if we are all created in God's image, then all of us have worth and no child is born to punish its mother. Whether in miscarriage, still birth, a difficult pregnancy, the decision to have an abortion, or the birth of a child with disabilities, I understand that God suffers with us, rather than seeks to cause us suffering. How could a loving God do anything else?

Rather than blaming women for their miscarriages or their disabled children - or limiting their access to safe abortions - legislators around the country need to ask themselves what else they can do to help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. And as religious leaders and people of faith, we need to support women and men during these difficult times, and speak out against policy makers who would rather re-victimize than heal them.

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