Tennessee: Miscarriage Will Be Murder — Legislature Passes Embryo Bill

Posted on April 24, 2012

The New Civil Rights Movement, April 24, 2012 by David Badash

The Tennessee House last week voted 80-18 to make miscarriage — or the killing of any fertilized egg — murder. Last night, the Tennessee Senate passed by a 28-2 margin a companion version of the bill. The bill specifically includes all embryos “at any state of gestation in utero.” Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Haslam has not indicated if he will sign the bill.

To be clear, this bill goes further than covering, say, a violent attacker harming an expectant mother who then, unfortunately, miscarries. This bill, House Bill 3517 and the Senate’s companion, makes anyone’s actions that presumably cause a miscarriage murder. Opponents of the bill question how law enforcement would actually enforce this law or determine if someone’s action was a direct cause of a miscarriage.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports today:

Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, told Beavers the measure would be construed to require a pregnancy test for “every woman who is shot.”

In the House, Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, the law could now could lead to a business owner who allows smoking being charged when an employee miscarries because of secondhand smoke or charges against a motorist who causes a careless minor accident that resulted a miscarriage.

“It seems to go too far,” Stewart said. “What’s the limiting factor?”

Rep. Jeannie Richardson, D-Memphis, said that about 50 percent of all conceptions “miscarry naturally” before the embryo reaches eight weeks and the new law is vague enough to allow prosecutions in such cases.

Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said Democrats were “playing the ‘what if’ game” he knows of no unwarranted “horrible instances” of prosecution in other states with similar laws covering embryos.

In other words, the law is poorly-written, poorly-conceived, and based on other poorly-written bills in other states, and an aggressive prosecutor has room to misuse the law — and the legislature knows it.

“Think this ‘fertilized egg-as-person’ thing hasn’t gone far enough?” Robin Marty at RH Reality Check asks, and adds:

How exactly do you prove that a miscarriage happened as a result of a crime? Or that she wasn’t just late? Or miscarrying on her own?

With so many potential issues to enforcing the legislation if it becomes law, it’s hard to see this as anything but a bill meant to validate the idea of a fertilized egg as a person.

Bottom line: Your miscarriage could land you in jail. Think this is far-fetched? Read this.

“Now, they’re looking to criminalize harm to embryos, the cells that are formed before a fetus develops eight weeks after conception,” Think Progress notes:

Including Tennessee, 38 states have fetal homicide laws — 23 of which apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy. As a result of these laws, some women are being unfairly charged with harming their unborn children when they lose their babies during pregnancy.

The Tennessean notes:

Opponents said charges of harming an embryo will be difficult to prove because many pregnancies end naturally at that stage. They suggested the measure really is meant to set up future battles over abortion.

State law limited prosecutions to harming a “viable fetus,” defined as somewhere around the 32nd week after conception until last year, when the law was amended to apply to any fetus. But one of that law’s sponsors, Republican Rep. Joshua Evans of Greenbrier, said backers did not realize then that humans are not typically referred to as fetuses until the eighth week of development. Before that stage, they are usually known as embryos.

According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly half of all fertilized eggs die before reaching full term, with the rate highest during the embryonic stage. As a result, it will be difficult for prosecutors to prove that an embryo miscarried because of someone else’s action and not from natural causes, predicted Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis.

“It is nature’s way, God’s way, of protecting our species,” she said. “I think your original bill may have been OK and we voted for that. I think extending that would be iffy.”

Opponents gradually linked the measure to the abortion debate.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, said the measure would give “veiled support” to the anti-abortion movement by establishing that embryos can be crime victims. Once that principle had been accepted, embryos could be recognized as persons under other aspects of the law.

Haslam last week allowed the Tennessee infamous “Monkey Bill” to become law without his signature. Tennessee now has a law that protects teachers who teach creationism, and those who welcome “debate” on culture war issues like global warming.

Haslam asked the legislature to drop their “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but the legislature is expected to pass it this week, their final week in session.

Posted in: Tenneesee