The so-called "Pro- LIfe" movement (which should be more accurately called the "Pro-Fetus" movement, since the lives of women are considered less important--even negligible--in comparison with a fertilized egg) has resulted in changes in the law that increasingly criminalize spontaneous miscarriage and put all pregnant women at risk of unjust arrest, confinement, and punishment.
A few years back, a pregnant woman in Missouri fell downstairs and went to a hospital to see if the fall had injured her fetus. She was arrested on suspicion of having thrown herself down the stairs to achieve an (illegal by then) abortion and jailed to "protect" her fetus from her. New laws in some states have made it a crime for a pregnant woman to do anything that anyone anywhere thinks might harm the fetus.--and women have been put in prison to prevent this harm. Because women's civil rights are nothing compared to a fetus.
And now a woman has been sentenced to 70 years in prison because...she had a spontaneous miscarriage of a tiny fetus that was dead on arrival. On the basis of unscientific "evidence". On the basis of unscientific assumptions (any woman who has a miscarriage must have been trying to end her pregnancy.) On the basis of unscientific pressure from certain religious and political groups whose war on women has been a consistent, fanatic attack on women's freedom in multiple areas, but most stark when it comes to medicine and reproduction. Ms. Patel's life--her essential human rights--have been taken to punish her for killing (for which there is no evidence) a fetus so premature that--had it been delivered alive in a hospital--would not have lived, and had it come out dead would not have been cause for any legal action whatsoever. Miscarriages happen.
Why do I care? Because miscarriages--spontaneous miscarriages--and stillbirths are part of my personal history.
They were not my own--they were my mother's. And her mother's. My maternal grandmother delivered only two live children but had miscarriages and at least one stillbirth (my mother remembered that one.) This was blamed (at that time) on an injury she had sustained as a child. My mother had five unsuccessful pregnancies in a row, including second and third trimester miscarriages and at least one stillbirth (so recorded becase he died in less than two minutes.) Had the current laws in Indiana (where my mother lived for several of these) been the same then as now, my mother would surely have been arrested on suspicion of attempting to end her pregnancy, tried, probably convicted, and imprisoned.
And I would not exist. I am the product of her last, successful pregnancy. Because the law did not condemn her for having miscarriages--because it was understood that these occur, that some women do lose pregnancies over and over--she was not in prison, and on D-Day she and her husband had sex, and nine months later I was born. Because she was not in prison, the work she did--which included saving a lot of lives by her engineering work during WWII, her nursing work in polio wards (she'd had polio as a child and was immune)--was done. Because she was not in prison, the art she painted, the clothes she made for me and others, the sweaters and mittens and hats she knitted, the friends she had--all that happened. Not to mention the important thing for me--the mother she was to me until she died at 77 a quarter century ago.
Because the new laws did not exist, my life does. Her life--as a free person, able to contribute in the many ways she contributed to family, friends, community, the world--existed. Whatever I've contributed (certainly not as much as she did) in my 70 years--the same number of years that Ms. Patel will be in prison--is due to the fact that the laws then were kinder than the laws now. The books I've written would not have been written. The music I've played and sung--would not have been played or sung the same. Our son would not be where and what he is now. Ms. Patel will not have that chance at life. She will not have a chance to have children she wants, with enough health care during pregnancy to give her a better chance to carry them to term. She will not get to be a mother, or whatever else she wants to be.
And for what? For the sake of a fetus already dead? For a theory about women that denies in them all possibility of existing as free persons, allowed to make choices about themselves and their own bodies...a theory that allows some men to call them "cows" and insist that their only value is in bearing children? A theory that says their lives are valueless compared to that of a fertilized egg? It's a lie. It's a lie that miscarriages are all a cover for abortion. It's a lie that women can't be pregnant without knowing it, or can't know how far along they are, or can't mistake the pain of labor with an early fetus for stomach cramps. It's a lie that says any injury during pregnancy was probably self-inflicted to get rid of hte pregnancy.
I know people who've had a therapeutic abortion--the fetus was dead, or was anencephalic and doomed to death shortly after birth, while the mother's life was endangered by continuing the pregnancy. Of the ones I know, every one had a healthy child born in a later pregnancy. Without that abortion, they would likely have died and never had a living child. But those who want women as cattle--as breeding animals--condemn saving the life of a living person--a living citizen who under the Constitution should have the same rights as men--and claim it's about the poor innocent little fetus. That's a lie. If they cared about fetal health, they would make sure that the environment in which women live--the air, the water, the food, the space, the social conditions--were those which best support pregnancy. They don't. What they care about is controlling women, keeping them subordinate, dependent, and, yes, pregnant. "Keep them pregnant and barefoot" as the saying goes and is still heard in some quarters. If they die of such treatment, there's always more where she came from.
It is disgusting and shameful that Ms. Patel has been sentenced to 70 years. It would be disgusting and shameful is the sentence were 7 years or even one year. It is disgusting and shameful that religious bigotry and male domination has written and enforced these laws. That a woman's life is not considered as valuable to society as well as to herself--that her freedom can be so constrained.
Someone asked me, sneeringly as they do, how I'd feel if my mother had chosen to abort me. The obvious answer is that I wouldn't be around to have feelings about it. I said that, and added that knowing I was a wanted child--that she had pushed past great difficulties and medical warnings to get pregnant again (this time with me) was certainly better than being unwanted and having a parent say so. The less obvious answer is that my other grandmother--my father's mother--wanted my mother to get an illegal abortion so she could give my father a divorce when he wanted it. She tried to push my mother down the stairs. My mother fought her way out of her mother-in-law's house, and (having survivor instincts) went a thousand miles away just in case.
I believe every woman has a right to make her own decisions regarding her own body. I believe that all forms of birth control that are medically safe should be available, and abortion should be available for when those methods fail. Society--or any particular person, male or female--has no legitimate interest in the products of conception--only the woman carrying them does. Society should be more interested in the woman--in her health and safety and her basic human rights--than in what's inside her uterus. Ms. Patel should be free. Those bad laws should be rescinded.