Daily Archives: February 16, 2007

No death certificates for abortions

A couple of days ago a friend alerted me to this post by the Tennesee Guerilla Women about a TN legislator, Stacey Campfield who has introduced a bill that would require doctors or hospitals to issue death certificates for aborted fetuses. This article explains that Campfield’s stated purpose for the bill is to help the state collect information about abortions but the article goes on to explain that:

“Tennessee law already requires abortions to be reported to the Office of Vital Records, though the identities of women having abortions are not included in the reports. Death certificates require identifying information like Social Security numbers.”

This is not about collecting information about abortions, this seems to be about collecting personal information about the women who have them.

If the state just wanted to collect information and keep records on the numbers of abortions, and the characteristics of people having them, they could easily do that without creating death certificates, and without collecting social security numbers and other personal information about the women having the procedures. But Campfield wants the state to collect information on the women themselves. This is an intimidation tactic, and a way of collecting data that can be used against women seeking abortions in the future.

Campfield wants people to think this is no different from what the state already does in the case of miscarriages or murders of pregnant women:

1. We give out death certificates to miscarried babies now. It is done on a weight determination basis. So in the eyes of the state the baby is (or was) a life.

2. When a person does a heinous crime and beats up A pregnant woman and kills her and the baby it is a double murder. In other states It is called Lacy’s law after the Lacy Peterson case. So in the eyes of the state the baby is (or was) a life. In these cases the child would also receive a death certificate.

What we are doing is having a variable determinations of when life begins. The variables are age, weight, when the baby fully leaves the body and is the child wanted. The first three factors we can measure. The fourth we can not. When or if the first three variable are used changes, based on the fourth. (From his blog post “Is it a Life“)

I don’t know anything about the giving of death certificates in the case of miscarriages, but I do know that when states began to enact laws making it two counts of murder to kill a pregnant woman (the fetus representing its own count), many of us were concerned that it was a very slick way of giving fetuses legal standing without much argument. In fact there was argument, but it was a very tough battle to frame in winnable terms.

This idea that “we can’t measure” whether or not a pregancy is wanted is ridiculous. Of course we can. Women do not voluntarily seek abortions when they want to continue their pregnancies. But part of the unspoken subtext of all of this is something that people just don’t want to talk about. I’m going to make an attempt at laying part of it out:

1. Yes, in the most technical of terms, a fetus is a form of ‘life,’ to answer Campfields blog question.

2. No, that life should not be construed as a fully human being with legal standing and “rights”.

3. If we are going to allow the state to give rights to the fetuses of women who do want to be pregnant, we cannot allow it to claim that the “want” is impossible to measure. (I do not support the giving of legal standing to a fetus in the first place. This has already been used for years to criminalize behavior that is otherwise legal, or that is representative of addiction, by making it “child abuse” if it occurs while pregnant.)

The life we are discussing depends for its existence on the cooperation and full consent of the woman who carries it. And her rights matter. And she needs a way to safely and legally withdraw her participation.

This is not just about what she “wants,” which makes the decision sound whimsical. It is about what she needs in order to live her life and be herself. And it is about her right to decide freely when and if to have a child. The state must not be allowed to enslave or taken over her body and force her to bear a child.

The closer we get to making fetuses into full people with full rights, the farther away we get from women’s rights to sexual and reproductive freedom. Death certificates for aborted fetuses should not be construed as parallel to death certificates for miscarriages.

The difference, as Campfield hints, is in whether or not the pregnancy was wanted, and that is eminently measurable. How do you measure it? Just ask the pregnant woman. She’ll know.

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