At the request of Utah’s governor, a bill that would criminalize miscarriages has been withdrawn, to be resubmitted without the “reckless” standard.
Two weeks ago a bill passed by both the Utah House and Senate made it a homicide for a woman to “knowingly” or “intentionally” cause an abortion or miscarriage, with penalties including up to life in prison. However the bill also included a standard of “recklessness” which in effect meant that the behavior and actions of any woman who miscarried would be under scrutiny and could lead to criminal charges.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling said Thursday Herbert wants to ensure there are no unintended consequences from the bill that would make abortions not performed by a doctor through a medical procedure illegal.
For example, Welling says the governor is worried a pregnant woman who has an accident while skiing could be charged with a crime.
Melissa Bird, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Council, said the new bill would be an improvement, but it is still not a good bill.
“He certainly has narrowed it,” she said. “It was one of the sticking points because it was so ill-defined and opened a large window for potential issues.”
Marina Lowe, government affairs director for the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it is difficult for prosecutors to discern a woman’s intent and the change fails to address the real problem.
“I also don’t think it solves the underlying problem. The question we need to be asking ourselves as Utahns is how did we get here in the first place,” said Lowe. She said the measure does nothing with respect to access to birth control, family planning, counseling and mental health services.
The new bill would the original version and would still make any illegal abortion a prosecutable homicide, a change in Utah law which currently does not criminalize actions taken by a woman to secure an abortion, lawful or unlawful. The bill was spurred by a case of a pregnant 17-year-old who paid a man $150 to beat her, hoping to cause a miscarriage. Such cases would still be a crime under the new bill.
The bill’s sponsor told the Salt Lake Tribune:
“I don’t want the controversy to follow Governor Herbert,” [State Representative] Wimmer said, adding that his intent by including reckless behavior was to target mothers who use illegal drugs and cause a miscarriage.