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Tennessee: Miscarriage Will Be Murder — Legislature Passes Embryo Bill

by David Badash on April 24, 2012

in Civil Rights,Discrimination,Legislation,News,Politics

Post image for Tennessee: Miscarriage Will Be Murder — Legislature Passes Embryo Bill

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.

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{ 10 comments }

Goose09 April 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm

-I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

meemeeyoo April 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I suffered a miscarriage during my first pregnancy and I was devastated. The thought of piling on a potential lawsuit on top of that type of loss is inhumane. F*ck you, Tennessee.

Wink101 September 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm

You should definitely read my comment I posted on this issue. Tennessee cannot legally penalize a pregnant woman for a miscarriage because the very same law you're talking about forbids it. The article you have read is terribly misleading.

Emilyhere22 April 24, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Welcome to the stone ages everyone. Where insanity rules over rational thought.

Liz April 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm

"…embryos could be recognized as persons under other aspects of the law." Does that mean that, if a couple has sex while the woman is already pregnant, the couple is guilty of pedophilia (displaying themselves to a child and, probably in the eyes of the law, getting sexual satisfaction from it) and child abuse (sexual because of the nature, but also physical because of the motions involved)? How about if the woman gets an epidural during delivery: is that child endangerment (exposing them to drugs)? What if the woman works during her pregnancy: is that child labor?

Just a side note: When a woman is on birth control, she doesn't produce an egg, so it can't be fertlized; therefore, no more murder!! Hint, hint.

Red April 25, 2012 at 1:22 am

At least pregnancy in Tenn. isn't like Arizona, where conception legally occurs two weeks before conception.

lepidopteryx April 26, 2012 at 12:56 am

Considering how many fertilized eggs are discarded by the body before any pregnancy symptoms even occur, perhaps we should be investigating every woman every time she has a period. Perhaps require permits and documentation of a recent negative pregnancy test for the purchase of tampons.

GaelicWench April 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I find this reprehensible from these people. They're more interested in protecting eggs and fetuses, but once the fetus is brought into this world, the care for it, the safety nets aren't there anymore. I am talking about single mothers-to-be, the women who are truly poor and rely on social programs needed, such as prenatal care. Those cannot be provided because of cost-cutting. But they're not allowed to abort either. Abstain? Hah! Like that will happen. It's a natural process of being a human being. Even priests do it! It doesn't work!

They haven't a friggin' leg to stand on. They make no sense whatsoever. And going back to the stoneage is such a misnomer. Everything happened naturally. No interference.

The Rebulicans are so against government-run EVERYTHING, yet they want to run women's lives like the men back during the stone age did….or in the polygamist families that still do exist, where the husband and prophet oversee their women constantly pregnant.

Unbelievable!!

Gimpwalker April 27, 2012 at 10:30 am

Another giant leap BACKWARDS!

Wink101 September 27, 2012 at 2:53 pm

This article got me really upset and worried over what this could mean for the rights of pregnant women…. until I actually looked up the law and read it for myself. :/ This article is incredibly misleading and draws focus away from the real errors of the bill that need to be addressed by falsely marketing it as "criminalizing miscarriage." The article also fails to mention that HOUSE BILL 3517 is actually an amendment to a preexisting law: Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-13-214

The bill specifically states: "(a) For the purposes of this part, "another" and "another person" include a human embryo or fetus at any stage of gestation in utero, when any such term refers to the
victim of any act made criminal by this part, and when at the time of the criminal act the
victim was pregnant.

(c) Nothing in subsection (a) shall apply to any act or omission by a pregnant woman with respect to an embryo or fetus with which she is pregnant, or to any lawful
medical or surgical procedure to which a pregnant woman consents, performed by a
health care professional who is licensed to perform such procedure. "

In other words… the law only applies to miscarriages that are the result of a criminal act of violence in which the victim is a pregnant woman who loses her embryo/fetus as a result of the violent act. Under this law it is possible to charge the assailant for the murder of the embryo/fetus, but the law SPECIFICALLY states that the pregnant woman cannot be charged under this law for a miscarriage that was due to her own action or inaction. It also SPECIFICALLY states that legal abortions by licensed healthcare providers cannot be criminalized under this law.

The only thing truly objectionable about Tennessee's HOUSE BILL 3517 is that it sets a precedent for Pro-Life groups to claim that the state recognizes a fertilized embryo as a living thing. HOWEVER, the bill makes a clear distinction that the fetus is only considered a homicide victim in the case where the mother intended to carry it to full term and it the miscarriage was induced against her will. Otherwise, it is not considered a homicide victim and subject to legal abortion without consequence. And, yes, abortion is legal in Tennessee.

Do some proper research before you start freaking out and condemning things, people. Geez.

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