Holy thought police, bat girl! Police in Iowa arrested a pregnant woman in her second trimester last month for telling a nurse she’d been thinking about having an abortion. While in the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs, Christine Taylor, 22, told a nurse about her employment and marital woes; Christine also said she’d considered both abortion and adoption before deciding to carry her pregnancy to full-term. The nurse then got suspicious that Christine had been trying to self-abort by throwing herself down the stairs — Christine was arrested under Iowa’s feticide laws, and the poor woman spent two days in jail.According to Change.org, Christine Taylor had an argument on the phone with her estranged husband. Shortly after, the pregnant mama felt light-headed and fell down a flight of stairs at her home. Paramedics determined that she was healthy, but Taylor asked to be taken to the ER so doctors could check on her fetus. While in the hospital, Christine started talking to a nurse about all her problems: she’s unemployed, estranged from her husband, and pregnant with her third kid. She mentioned that she’d considered abortion, as well as giving the baby up for adoption, but ultimately decided to have a third child.
This is where things get weird: the nurse called a doctor, who pressed Christine further about the thoughts she’d had about ending the pregnancy. Concerned that Christine may have thrown herself down the stairs, rather than fallen, in an attempt to end the pregnancy, they called the police.
Christine spent two days in jail; however, the district attorney eventually declined to prosecute her, likely because Iowa’s feticide law is only applicable in the third trimester.
Feticide laws are so tricky, because obviously anti-abortion extremists try to use them — or use the spirit of them — to criminalize all abortion. In Iowa, Change.org reports, the feticide law is for anyone who tries “to intentionally terminate a human pregnancy, with the knowledge and voluntary consent of the pregnant person, after the end of the second trimester of the pregnancy.” While many of us would likely appreciate a feticide law if a pregnant woman we knew and loved was killed (for example, Laci Peterson, whose family campaigned for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a feticide law), it’s a little harder to support one on principle when you see how it sows the seed of suspicion against women, such as in this case.
I can understand how medical and social services professionals would be wary of this particular situation and be on the lookout, perhaps, for signs of a potentially abusive parent. But it’s simply not true that a woman who considers ending a pregnancy, whether by safe and legal means (in a clinic) or unsafe and illegal means, would have abused a child if it were born. That’s where the flaw in the logic lies.
Ultimately, the Christine Taylor story underscores an important point about access to abortion (though, ironically, she herself was not trying to abort). If women don’t have access to safe, legal abortions when they need them, they may pursue unsafe, illegal ways of ending a pregnancy — which can veer into the category of feticide, complicating matters even further. Abortion foes love to find ways to obstruct access to abortion: legislating waiting periods, forcing women to look at ultrasounds and hear descriptions of the fetus, menacing doctors and nurses, even bombing clinics. But these things do not, as abortion foes might hope, force a woman to want to continue on with pregnancy. It just … doesn’t. History has proven that if women want abortions, they will get abortions by any means necessary.
The very fact that women have historically ended pregnancies by throwing themselves down the stairs, or getting punched in the stomach, or self-aborting with a coat hanger, is scary. It’s even scarier that in 2011 2011, the doctor and nurse had a reason to suspect it.