I'm not one for dissecting the intimate details of other people's lives to make a political point, unless of course they're dissecting the intimate details of their life to make a political point. Then it's fair game. Enter Michelle Bachmann. In this month's More Magazine, Bachmann explains, as she does routinely before "pro-life" groups, that suffering though a miscarriage helped strengthen her anti-abortion views and led her to be "committed to life." Indeed, the story of her miscarriage has echoed through the halls of Congress, was teleported through C-Span (video below), and has emotionally punctuated her presidential campaign town hall-style meetings. Surely, the recounting of one's miscarriage, an often tragic occasion, resonate with many women and the men who love them. Unlike most of these women however, for Bachmann it inspired her to want to strip American women of their reproductive rights.
Yet propping up her argument against abortion with an emotional tale of a wanted but ill-fated pregnancy opens up some interesting pro-choice points too. For example, if abortion were illegal at the time of her miscarriage, which Bachmann wishes were the case, she may have been surprised to find herself a suspect in a potential homicide investigation. You see, when abortion is illegal, every miscarriage, every fetal death, is suspect and a potentially criminal event. Therefore, every miscarrying woman's body, even a pro-life Congresswoman's, is a potential crime scene.
Sounds far-fetched? Let's take a peek at how miscarriage is handled in some of the countries Bachmann would like the United States to model itself after on abortion. El Salvador, for example, includes in its CSI ranks "forensic gynecologists," whose sole function is to inspect the vaginas of women who have miscarried for evidence of an abortion. The forensic investigations conducted on miscarrying women in El Savador was documented in the New York Times Magazine in 2006, the article explained,
"As they do in any investigation, the police collect evidence by interviewing everyone who knows the accused and by seizing her medical records. But they must also visit the scene of the crime, which, following the logic of the law, often means the woman's vagina."
"Yes, we sometimes call doctors from the Forensic Institute to do a pelvic exam," Tópez [an El Salvadoran prosecutor] said, referring to the nation's main forensic lab, "and we ask them to document lacerations or any evidence such as cuts or a perforated uterus." In other words, if the suspicions of the patient's doctor are not conclusive enough, then in that initial 72-hour period, a forensic doctor can legally conduct a separate search of the crime scene. Tópez said, however, that vaginal searches can take place only with "a judge's permission." Tópez frequently turned the pages of a thick law book she kept at hand. "The prosecutor can order a medical exam on a woman, because that's within the prosecutor's authority," she said.
If a woman's story doesn't seem convincing it can also be used against her, the article continued,
"The physical evidence in a case can be supported by other clues. Vargas, [an Ob/Gyn in El Salvador] said that in medical school she read in a gynecological textbook, published in the late 1990's in Chile, that the doctor should listen carefully to the patient's story. If the woman is "confused in her narrative," Vargas said, that could well indicate that she'd had an abortion..."
Pro-life leaders, despite their devotion to outlawing abortion, offer little in the way of explanation on what enforcement of illegal abortion would look like. The unfortunate reality -- always the rough patch for right to lifers -- is that there's already evidence that women, and/or their loved ones, could be tried for homicide by miscarriage. As Lynn Paltrow, president of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, points out, "Even with Roe still in effect, there are women who have been arrested and are serving time on murder charges for having suffered unintentional stillbirths. In Utah, a woman was charged with murder based on the claim that she caused a stillbirth by refusing to have a c-section earlier in her pregnancy." Indeed, some lawmakers in the U.S. are already thinking like El Salvadoran prosecutors. The Georgia state legislature this year considered a bill that would require an investigation of any miscarriage that took place without medical oversight.
By giving fetal life the same legal status as everyone living outside the womb, questioning the circumstances surrounding a miscarriage, which are usually mysterious, is equally valid as questioning the circumstances surrounding a mysterious human death. In a world of her own legal making, Bachmann could be subject to invasive and cruel questioning. Had she created a hostile environment for fetal life? Did she take any medicine that may have precipitated the death? Tylenol? Was it negligent homicide? Did she eat sushi? Was she under a lot of stress? Her loved ones, staff and co-workers would be asked to weigh in about her mental state and behavior.
Bachmann should think twice about serving up her miscarriage as proof of her pro-life credentials. In the future she dreams of for American women, it could be circumstantial evidence.