Legal Wrap: Personhood, Statutory Rape, and the Second-Class Legal Status of Women


Lately it seems like state courts have had a flood of cases where they have considered curbing rights of women once the issue of sex or pregnancy is raised. In Tennessee, for example, the state’s supreme court will decide whether a minor can be considered an accomplice in her own statutory rape, drawing attention to centuries-old jurisprudence that links evidence of force with evidence of consent and turns on its head the purpose of statutory rape laws to begin with.

Meanwhile in Colorado, a medical malpractice case is drawing attention to the hypocritical position of the Catholic church and fetal personhood. There, a Catholic hospital is being sued in the deaths of a pregnant woman and her twin fetuses. Her surviving spouse argues the hospital and its doctors and employees were negligent when they failed to order a C-section and deliver the twins, even as it was clear his wife was dying. The hospital argues it is not negligent in the deaths of the twin fetuses because those fetuses are not people under the law and the only legal duty the hospital and doctors owed was to the pregnant woman.

Of course, the Colorado case highlights the very problem for women created by fetal personhood laws, and underscores the study recently released by National Advocates for Pregnant Women on the increasingly dangerous relationship between pregnant women and the law. Naturally, Personhood USA flipped out over the study.

There is more news on the legal challenges to the birth control benefit. Washington D.C.-based anti-abortion group American Center for Law and Justice filed another lawsuit challenging the mandate, this time  on behalf of two Ohio for-profit businesses and their owners. Both Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics are owned and operated by Francis Gilardi Jr. and his brother Philip. Both are Catholic and both contend the mandate violates their constitutional and statutory rights. Freshway Foods is a fresh produce processing and packing company that serves 23 states and has 340 full-time employees. Freshway Logistics is a for-hire transport company that has about 55 full-time employees.

In Pennsylvania a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by the Catholic Diocese of Erie challenging the benefit, holding that the claims cannot be brought until after the Obama administration has had a chance to further amend the contraception mandate. This is the tenth of eleven cases by Catholic diocese challenging the birth control benefit to be dismissed by a federal court.

Finally, Texas is going its own way and introducing legislation that would give state tax breaks to business that chose not to comply with the contraception mandate. Known as the “Hobby Lobby” bill, it would essentially create a safe haven in the state for any business that claims a religious affiliation and wants to avoid covering contraception in employee-sponsored health plans.

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