Could A Case Of Attempted Coercion Change the Face Of Abortion For Good?

Being a pro-choice advocate means exactly that — supporting a women’s right to choose when to have a child and under what conditions.  Incidents of women being coerced, especially through violence or threats of violence to have an abortion are as unacceptable as forcing a woman to carry to term.

But an Ohio lawyer is charging that such a crime is attempted murder.  No, not a crime against the victim of the coercion, but a crime against the fetus.

Via the Columbus Dispatch:

An attempted-murder charge against a man accused of trying to force his girlfriend to have an abortion appears to be the first case of its kind in Franklin County.

“I am not aware of a previous case that is similar to the facts in this case,” Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said today in an e-mail to The Dispatch.

Dominic L. Holt-Reid, 28, of Kelton Avenue on the Near East Side, will be arraigned on Wednesday on the attempted-murder charge, as well as two counts of kidnapping and one count each of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, carrying a concealed weapon and having a weapon despite a 2007 drug conviction.

Holt-Reid was arrested Oct. 6 after police say he pointed a handgun at Yolanda Burgess, 26, and forced her to drive to an East Side abortion clinic for a scheduled appointment after she told him she didn’t want to go through with the procedure.

Police initially charged him with kidnapping and carrying a concealed weapon. The other charges were added in the six-count indictment returned Friday by a Franklin County grand jury.

“He is charged with attempted murder for the attempt at gunpoint to force her to have an abortion against her will,” O’Brien wrote.

“The (state) murder statute was amended a few years back to prohibit ‘unlawful termination of a pregnancy’ in order to avoid the debate whether an unborn fetus is a ‘person’ under the law.

“I have tried homicides where the murder victim was pregnant, and we were able to charge and convict for two counts, but this case is the first under these kinds of facts.”

Multiple states have allowed murder charges to be presented in the case of accidental or intentional death of a fetus, many of them pertaining to the fetus as a second victim, such as in the case of the murder of Laci Peterson, which inspired changes in existing law.  Fetal homicide has also been used in cases of car accidents, where a woman’s pregnancy is ended due to the reckless conduct of the instigator.

But “attempted murder” is new, and much trickier.  It wanders into a legal fuzzy zone of regulation that hasn’t been seen since the Utah “miscarriage” legislation that attempted to place murder charges on anyone who sought to end a pregnancy “outside of legal indications already set by the state of Utah.”  That law had to be drastically amended to public outcry due to opening up any pregnant woman to the possibility of jail time should she miscarry as a doctor could claim it was caused by her own reckless behavior.  It was also the first law created that would punish a woman, not just an outside entity, should a pregnancy end outside the legal standards of an abortion clinic.

Should Ohio continue to prosecute on a newly carved “attempted murder” charge, once again we could be facing a series of rules and regulations that would create a new legal status for a fetus.  If a partner trying to coerce a woman by force to have an abortion is attempted murder, why wouldn’t a partner trying to just talk a woman into an abortion be attempted murder?  And if a partner trying to talk a woman into an abortion is attempted murder, why wouldn’t a woman having the abortion be charged with murder, or at least an accessory to murder?  Would a woman who even considers having an abortion be attempting murder?

One anti-abortion activist quoted in the article states:

The attempted-murder charge “exposes the schizophrenic nature of abortion law in America,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of the Midwest affiliate of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion group. “A wanted baby is protected by the law, but an unwanted baby is not.”

Yet what could be more schizophrenic than creating a charge that could open up a woman to jail time for thinking she may not want to be pregnant?

But in the end, what is unsettling isn’t just the fact that the “attempted murder” charge creates a level of personhood for the fetus that simply isn’t there, and could provide a precedent that could cause all abortions to be construed as “attempted murder” regardless of the pregnant woman’s desires.  What is most disturbing is that the charges against the boyfriend regarding the fetus are greater than the charges being leveled at him for what he has done to the woman, a real, live victim kidnapped and held by gunpoint.

Once more, the fetus is given a level of protection and human rights that are being denied to the woman actually carrying it, and again, a woman is being told her life is of less value than that of her unborn child.

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  • richwas

    utah quietly received its first ever planned parenthood abortion clinic this month.

    now that the camel has its nose in the tent…

    public funding of abortion, then infanticide.

    see obama and infanticide:

    get PP out of UT!

  • beenthere72

    Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?


    Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

    The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

    Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn’t provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.



    As for public funding, ever hear of the Hyde Amendment? 


    I’d give this a read:


    First implemented in 1977, the Hyde Amendment, which currently forbids the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, has guided public funding for abortions under the joint federal-state Medicaid programs for low-income women.


    You are against abortions in the case of life endangerment, rape or incest?   


    You are against abortion in the case of life endangerment?   

  • princess-rot

    It is indicative of the ridiculous state of American laws when we cannot seem to solidly distinguish that forcing someone to remain pregnant against their will is exactly the same as forcing someone to have an abortion against their will: both are anti-choice and anti-woman. I could not help but notice that in these kind of discussions, the woman is quietly erased or marginalized.


    In the case of double homicide, again, the woman did not have a solid choice. The woman’s intentions, thoughts or feelings about the pregnancy have absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of either, and negative or positive, they do not justify or cancel out another person’s reckless or malicious conduct. In the case of fetal death in auto accidents, even if the woman was partially or wholly culpable is something for a court to determine.


    If fetal death was the third party’s fault, then it could be considered the same damage to the woman as fetal death due to physical attack. In partial culpability cases the right to sue would be extent, just like it is for damaged property, personal injury, or other trauma. I realise this is not a perfect answer to a multi-faceted problem, but it’s probably a better idea than granting ZBEFs “personhood”, since it does not make fertile females into biological slaves.


    We pro-choicers should really approach such potentially double-binding conversations with our base assumptions always being the bodily autonomy of the woman, not the perceived “importance” of the fetus. I realise that leaves a grey area where the level of fetal importance to the woman could influence the outcomes of cases, but I do not think we should set an arbitrary level of fetal importance that applies across the board – one size never fits all, anyway.


    I know it is squicky to some that women should be the final arbiter of life for the fetus, but that is the way it is, whether you think women are capable moral agents or not. Fetuses don’t grow in vacuums, entirely independent and never leeching away anyone else’s life and health. Parasitism is a two-way street.

  • arekushieru

    I think I might have posted this link, before, but I think it’s worth reposting, especially in light of what you are discussing, Princess Rot.  This refers to a bill introduced into the Canadian legislature a couple of years back.  It talks about enforcing the maximum punishment allowed under law for a conviction of ‘aggravated assault’.  This law treats pregnant women as no more and no less than women who are not pregnant, while recognizing the unique vulnerabilities and circumstances that pregnancy places her in.

  • arekushieru

    Hmm, yes, I see.  Get PP out of Utah for something that accounts for only three percent of its services and, the rest of which, reduce the NEED for the former services.  No one ever said that anti-choicers were logical.  Now, I know why.

  • derekp

    Cases like these inevitably force pro-choice advocates into a difficult position.  Namely, there is really no consistent way to say that men or other people who end the life of the fetus without the woman’s consent should be charged with murder while the woman can end the life of the fetus without punishment.  After all, no one would say that it should be legal for women to kill their own born infants and illegal for anyone else to kill them without her consent.


    Some pro-choice advocates just admit that the death of a fetus should never warrant a separate homicide charge.  Any pro-choice advocates disagree with this approach, and if so, how do you reconcile charging men with murder for killing fetuses but not pregnant women for paying for the killing of fetuses?  It’s not like the fetus is a human being when the man kills them, but not a human being when the woman does it.  Right?

  • crowepps

    Woman does not want to be pregnant — has legal abortion, placenta is removed and fetus dies.  Not illegal.


    Woman DOES want to be pregnant but her fetus is killed during an assault on her.  Since it is illegal to assault women, the fetus was unlawfully killed.  Illegal.


    I don’t personally see that makes any sense to have a special category of ‘fetus murder’ however, when the actual crime is ‘causing injury sufficient to interrupt a wanted pregnancy’ which is a violation of the mother’s autonomy AND person.  I would consider the lost pregnancy an aggravator to make the assault on the woman ‘most serious’.


    Perhaps if we could all agree that assaulting women is a BAD THING, whether they are pregnant or not pregnant, and that an assault serious enough to cause a miscarriage is an ESPECIALLY BAD THING (just like any other assault which causes ‘grievous bodily harm’), then people who do assault women would receive punishment sufficient to segregate them from the rest of society which would increase safety for all of us, men and women.


  • crowepps

    If anti-choicers were logical, and really truly wanted to get abortions reduced to low numbers, what they would do is look around and see which countries have the lowest abortion rates, and then duplicate the public policy methods that contribute to those low abortion rates.  Like comprehensive sex education, easily available cheap birth control, etc.  Judging by their public policy positions, it is far more important to them to shame women for having sex.

  • panhandler

    This is by no means a complete list, but it’s useful nonetheless. Just check out the list of following countries by the percentage of their pregnancies ending in abortion ( I’m okay with emulating countries such as Ireland and Poland. What about you? What countries would you like to emulate?


    If we’re going this route, then if pro-choicers really wanted to get abortions reduced to low numbers, they would just look at which states have the lowest abortion rates and then duplicate the public policy methods that contribute to those low abortion rates.

  • crowepps

    Ironic would you would pick those two, since Poland has the lowest birthrate in Europe, and Ireland’s birth rate is at replacement level.  Women from Poland and Ireland have to TRAVEL but they get abortions.  So to just where do you think American women with unwanted pregnancies should travel to get THEIR abortions?  Canada or Mexico City?


  • ahunt

    Disingenuous much? 


    Abortion in Ireland: Replacing the coat hanger with a pill



    Now Irish women have turned to the internet for help. A Freedom of Information request submitted to the Irish Medicines Board by a pro-choice activist group Choice Ireland showed that 1,216 abortion pills were seized during 2009. What is clear about these particular figures is that these seizures represent attempted illegal DIY abortions. Had it not been for the Irish Medicines Board and Customs Authorities actions, there would have been two dozen illegal abortions here in Ireland every week during 2009. These were only the failed attempts, and while enforcement may have stopped 1,216 pills getting to the women that ordered them, it is unlikely that they could have stopped every single order.








  • colleen

    I don’t personally see that makes any sense to have a special category of ‘fetus murder’ however, when the actual crime is ‘causing injury sufficient to interrupt a wanted pregnancy’ which is a violation of the mother’s autonomy AND person.

    It makes sense to people who don’t believe women are fully human and should have the right to autonomy and the power of consent. More than anything the ‘pro-life’ movement is a sexual fantasy for severely inadequate males.

  • panhandler

    First of all, it’s not ironic. Those two countries have among the lowest abortion rates in the world, even after you take into account abortion obtained out-of-country (you didn’t click on and follow the links). Anyway, number one, virtually all industrialized countries have sub-replacement replacement rates, with the only usual exception to this being the United States. Within Europe, Ireland has one of the higher replacement rates, if not the highest. So if you’re going to try to play the sub-replacement fertility game, then you have to equally hold it against all countries with a replacement rate lower than Ireland (and there are about 98 of them). Number two, Poland’s low-birth rate is simply indicative of Europe as a whole and has fairly little to do with abortion. Well, you could claim that low-birth are because of abortion or are greatly influenced by it, but this would require you to explain why, for example, even though Europe as a whole has a lower abortion rate than the U.S. as a whole, it has a far lower replacement rate. That’s a rhetorical question, by the way, because the answer is kind of obvious (higher rates of pregnancy in the U.S. than in Europe). If you had a point to make, you didn’t make it. 


    Second of all, it’s only the most rabid of pro-choicers who would think that the intent behind making an action illegal is to make it not occur, in this case abortion. It does not. Rather, making an action illegal drives the incidence of that action down. This is why abortion rates go up when abortion is made legal, and why it goes down when it is made illegal. Now, if if you pro-choicers cared about low abortion rates, you would emulate the policies of those countries with the lowest abortion rates. Or put in terms of the U.S., you would emulate those states with the lowest abortion rates. But you won’t, because it’s not about low abortion rates as you somehow insinuate it is.


    On a bit of a side-note, if we were to fill a room with both pro-choice and pro-life advocates and said that we would make abortion illegal save for a few instances while mandating things like universal healthcare and sex ed whilst handing out free birth control, that the pro-life group would be far more willing to agree to this than the pro-choice group would.

  • ahunt

    Second of all, it’s only the most rabid of pro-choicers who would think that the intent behind making an action illegal is to make it not occur, in this case abortion. It does not. Rather, making an action illegal drives the incidence of that action down.

    You cannot be serious.


    Now, if if you pro-choicers cared about low abortion rates, you would emulate the policies of those countries with the lowest abortion rates.


    Do you even think before you write? We care about WOMEN, and want to lower the abortion rate because we care about women. Perceive the distinction. Please?







  • princess-rot

    Second of all, it’s only the most rabid of pro-choicers who would think that the intent behind making an action illegal is to make it not occur, in this case abortion. It does not. Rather, making an action illegal drives the incidence of that action down.


    Rape is illegal. That hasn’t really driven it’s instances down (because it would have driven the rate of reporting and convicting up, which would, in an ideal world, have the eventual effect of driving the actual rate of committing rape down), because there are still sociological pressures brought to bear on women for sexual activity that make it hard to prosecute rapists. It is much the same with abortion – it is seen as a dirty thing because it  involves women’s sexuality.


    If you truly believe what you write, how does your assertion disprove the fact that there are places (like Utah) where abortion is a legal right but a practical impossibility for many? The right to bodily autonomy – to be free from rape and to choose when to remain pregnant – in both cases they are often a right in name only. This is because female bodily autonomy is almost universally seen as negotiable.