Pregnant in Handcuffs


It’s a pity that ‘culture of life’ isn’t more widely recognized as being about as hollow as ‘ethics in videogame journalism’ and coupled with a similarly nasty collection of actual motivations.


I imagine there’s more than a little overlap between said enthusiasts.


Interesting philosophical question: if the police kill a pregnant woman and her foetus dies with her, who is responsible for the foetus’ death? The police for killing the mother, or the mother for dying?

The mother for dying, of course, because the police aren’t ever resposible for anything.


I wish I could agree with the conclusion:

We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.

Should, in the sense of ethically this should be what is, yes. Should in the sense that we should expect this will happen, I doubt it. Many of the people who are pushing for these laws definitely believe that women who are pregnant should lose their civil and human rights, and not a small number of them likely believe that women shouldn’t really have those rights to begin with.


The problem is that, they way they see it, what they’re pushing for is for the foetus to gain rights. There’s a sizeable portion of the group that just doesn’t fully grasp what that means for the adult’s rights, or has convinced themselves that these laws could only be applied in the worst-case scenarios they’ve been fed about abortion.


Well, I’m not concerned about the way it is framed, but about the way it is applied. Of those six nightmare cases at the beginning of the article, (Washington, Iowa, Utah, Louisiana, and two in Florida) I think that advocates of fetal rights would say the stat was right in 5 of 6, the exception being Louisiana where a woman was imprisoned for a year for having a miscarriage. Even then, I think you could probably find a lot of people who would say something like, “Well, that’s terrible but sometimes the justice system makes mistakes and she was exonerated in the end, so it all worked out.”

Maybe I’m wrong and many people pushing fetal rights would be shocked to find out they are being applied this way, that sounds pretty optimistic to me. If you asked, “should a woman lose her human rights while she is pregnant,” they might say no, but I think those cases that sound awful to me would probably be exactly what they mean the law to do.


Its funny how just a handful of recently publicized cases like this in Ireland lead to not just broad calls for better abortion laws but renewed calls for a formal separation of church and state there (they don’t have that). But here its kind of a shrug, or supposedly a myth, or dismissed with wild claims about women throwing themselves down the stairs to end a pregnancy.


Welcome to the Republic of Gilead.


Which is exactly what I meant… many of these people aren’t thinking about the way it’s applied, at least not in the overall sense. They bought the line that these laws protect children, without looking at what the laws actually do.

If you’re just talking about the people writing the laws and the fundamentalist core, then I agree with you. It just sounded like you were lumping together everyone on that side as believing “that women shouldn’t really have those rights to begin with”.

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I wish I could say it was amazing that:

  1. people think there is a rash of women throwing themselves down stairs to end pregnancies
  2. believing that many people are doing that, people think, “These women need jail time” rather than “There is something terribly wrong with our society”

Well, I certainly didn’t mean that the majority of people who support these abortion laws actively think women are less than human, just that I’m sure some do. What I do think is that a majority of people who support these abortion laws would see the examples in the article as largely reasonable actions by a government to prevent abortion, rather than as violations of the human rights of the affected women (or they would admit that they were human rights violations but say we had to balance that agains the human rights of the embryo/fetus).


I’m surprised this hasn’t been more publicized, but Tennessee’s Amendment 1 (text below) seems designed to allow the state legislature to strip pregnant women of any or even all rights. According to its supporters the Amendment doesn’t take away any woman’s right to have an abortion-- which is technically true. However supporters also claim the amendment protects women by allowing the regulation of clinics–which is flatly untrue.

It won’t surprise me at all if, given the breadth of the amendment, Tennessee sees laws specifically aimed at restricting the rights of pregnant women.

Here’s the text of Amendment 1 in full:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.


The fact is that restrictions on abortion only affect the poor. Those with the means to do so will simply “vacation” to a state or country where it is safe and legal.


And speaking of relationships between men and women… Not entirely unlike The Hashtag That Shall Not Be Named, nothing is going to change until men really start to take this aspect of women’s experience seriously. No cisgender man is EVER going to have this happen to him, but it’s something all people who can carry a pregnancy have to live with the reality of. If you’re not poor or a minority, you can afford to fear it a little less, but still, the possibility that a judge could order you to undergo a procedure that could kill you, or forbid you from having a procedure that could save you, is ever-present and ugly, just like the threat of rape and intimate partner violence. It is part of the mental landscape in a way that cis men just do not have to contend with, and until men get that and take it seriously and say “Not in our name, not ever,” nothing will change.


The mother is responsible for her actions that lead to whatever else.

The trouble is that waving around the metaphorical-and-sometimes-literal sword of state power is one of those situations where sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

Sure, I would readily concede that many people who think ‘there ought to be a law’ don’t actually give much thought to the consequences (I’m trying to dig it up now; but I distinctly remember somebody doing a series of interviews that demonstrated this pattern pretty strikingly: it was all “So, you think abortion should be illegal?” “Yes”. “So what do you think the penalty should be?” “I think that abortion should be illegal.”, no real sense at all of the fact that ‘illegal’ means ‘yes, the state will send men with guns to apply coercive force’, just a ‘bad things should be against the law, right?’).

However, making criminal law is one of those fields where there is no room for morally blameless incompetence. This doesn’t mean that everyone who dabbles in bad laws is a monster; but you have to be genuinely dumb to escape moral culpability by reason of incapacity, and if you fail to reverse your support when you see the consequences, you forfeit even the “I never meant for that to happen!” mitigation.

This isn’t exclusive to reproductive rights related law, or even law in general: there are many activities that are dangerous enough to others that there simply isn’t much room to make ‘innocent’ mistakes. Non-malicious mistakes, sure; but ‘innocent’ is a higher standard. If you are inclined to be forgiving, perhaps ‘innocent mistake’ is something you can regain if you act suitably strongly to undo the harm you have done once it becomes apparent; but either way when you pass laws you prescribe real consequences for real people. That’s the point. To forget that is to approve of the deployment of coercive violence while pretending that your hands are clean.

(None of this is to say that being in support of a given law is necessarily wrong, there are things that are worthy of being suppressed to the degree possible. It’s just that once you stop expressing a moral sentiment and start supporting a law you step into a whole different level of responsibility. The law is not a codification of moral sentiment, it’s a codification of who and what are legitimate and desirable targets of coercive force.)

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