How Mississippi's Vote Today Could Put Pregnant Women Under State Control
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It may seem far-fetched, but zealous prosecutors, eager to show themselves off as champions of idealized motherhood, have already started in many conservative areas to prosecute women for giving birth to stillborns if they used drugs while pregnant, even if there’s no evidence connecting the drugs to the stillbirth. Since a chain of evidence isn’t necessary in stillbirth cases, we have every reason to expect that it won’t be seen as particularly necessary in miscarriage cases. Prosecutors just need to paint the accused as a bad mother-to-be and let jury prejudice do the rest.
Conservatives are already pushing for wide expansion of the right to drug test working class and poor people, by putting a piss test in every employment and welfare office. This law provides an excuse for widespread pregnancy testing of women who are in the criminal justice system and subsequent charges of “child abuse”. It may not be too long before young women arrested for drug possession or petty crimes are finding themselves forced to pee on sticks in jail, with extra charges filed for exposing “minors” to these crimes if these tests turn up positive.
This is why we can expect this law to be used disproportionately against more vulnerable women. Poor women and women of color have been the primary targets for stillbirth prosecutions, even though drug use is common across all class and race boundaries. Law enforcement officials often have an image of model motherhood in their minds, an image that is very white and middle class, and women who don’t fit that image are much more likely to arouse suspicion.
In addition to targeting women who miscarry and arouse suspicion of being less than ideal pregnant women, this bill could extend the right to the state to make embryos and fetuses wards of the state, which in turn would dissolve the pregnant woman’s basic autonomy. In other words, you may not even have to miscarry for law enforcement to deem you a threat to your embryo and use that as a pretense to detain and control you, as doing so is the only way to “protect” the embryo. If embryos are persons, everything a pregnant woman does she’s doing to the “person” inside her. If you have a cigarette or a glass of wine, they could charge you with distribution to minors.
To make all this even more frightening, the law would define personhood as beginning at fertilization, which is before a woman is even pregnant, since pregnancy often begins days after fertilization, when an egg implants in the uterine lining. Even after a pregnancy officially begins, many women don’t detect it for weeks. This would mean that a personhood law would turn all women of reproductive age into a class of people who could, in theory, have “persons” inside them, regardless of their actual or perceived pregnancy status. This has infinite potential in giving the state power to restrict the choices and movements of all women of reproductive age, in order to protect the theoretical people inside them.
Personhood supporters have already indicated a desire to limit the rights of non-pregnant women using this bill by preventing women from having access to hormonal contraception on the grounds that it could prevent fertilized eggs from surviving, even though there is no scientific evidence to support this conclusion. If they succeed in banning the pill by arguing that the state has a right to restrict any activity that could, in theory, cause a fertilized egg not to implant in a non-pregnant woman, why would conservatives stop there? Many activities could, in theory, cause fertilized eggs to die: exercise, working overtime, taking all sorts of medications that aren’t the pill, using certain kinds of products, eating certain kinds of food, studying really hard, juggling a job and a family life. Restricting women from holding certain jobs seen as “men’s work” is a low-hanging fruit should this bill pass. It’s easy to see how this law would be selectively enforced to attack young women and working class women whose choices are already viewed with suspicion by conservatives.