Reckless Incubator

I hated pregnancy. I hated being tired all the time. I hated the loss of cognitive function (though I know a recent study said that "pregnancy brain" is a myth, I disagree). I hated the loss of creative function (I first suspected I was pregnant when I found myself unable to write a sentence or knit a row). Most of all, I hated that the only books I could concentrate on reading were pregnancy and baby related.

While I am sure this made me incredibly tiresome if you wanted to talk to me about anything else, it also meant I was extremely well-versed in all things gestation. By the end of my pregnancy, the book reading coupled with my Bradley classes had me considering becoming a doula. During my pregnancy, however, I was overwhelmed with guilt over all the things I did which were possibly* unsafe for my fetus. Due to luck, education, and socio-economic class**, I wasn't doing any of the seriously unsafe things like smoking, abusing substances, living in an environmentally unsafe area, staying in an abusive relationship, operating heavy machinery, but I was doing stuff which was dangerous like:
  • Driving a car because I could get into an accident which could cause fetal damage/miscarriage
  • Riding my bicycle because a fall might cause fetal damage/miscarriage. Not only did I ride, I rode on city streets, so I was also at risk of being hit by a car
  • Walking up the two flight of concrete stairs to our apartment because a fall might cause fetal damage/miscarriage
  • Pilates because it required me to lie on my back which might cause the blood flow to my uterus to be compromised which could lead to fetal damage/miscarriage
  • Exercising on the elliptical machine because it caused my heart rate to go over 140 within the first few minutes and that was bad for the fetus. Also, I was probably overheating which was bad for the fetus
  • Drinking one glass of champagne during my second trimester, as well as the very rare sips of wine I had at various points during my pregnancy, because no one knows the threshold for the development of fetal alcohol disorder
  • Flying at 18 weeks because I was exposing myself and my fetus to lots of radiation
  • Eating sushi and deli meat because the bacterial exposure could lead to fetal damage/miscarriage
And those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head.

I mention this because the Utah legislature has just passed a bill to criminalize miscarriage. The bill is meant to criminalize the actions of women who attempt to terminate their pregnancies through non-medical means. In addition to women who actively attempt to end their pregnancies, it also targets women who engage in "reckless behavior" which leads to the unintentional miscarriage of their fetus at any point in the pregnancy.

How do you define reckless? Look at the list of my questionable* activities during pregnancy. If I had miscarried, it would have been devastating for me and I would probably have blamed myself, but should I have been prosecuted for causing the miscarriage due to my reckless acts? (I am getting hung up on the structure of that sentence--I am sure I got the tense wrong, but maybe that is normal when speaking about a hypothetical parallel universe in the past tense).

How do you define a miscarriage due to behavior? Given that 15-20% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, in many cases it would be hard to determine which ones could have been prevented.

Also, how do you define pregnant? Many women have irregular menstrual cycles at some point in their lives, so it is impossible to know if you are pregnant until you take a pregnancy test (and then, depending on the results, you may not even know then). It is estimated that up to 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage due to the high number of miscarriages which occur without a woman knowing she was pregnant. Should the law be applied to all women who who end up miscarrying, whether or not they know they are pregnant? I'm not just talking about the women who are profiled on I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, I'm talking about women who are only a few weeks along. As extreme as this sounds, since the Utah law covers the entire pregnancy, a woman could be prosecuted for recklessly causing a miscarriage of an embryo she didn't know she was carrying.***

I have long suspected that the real goal of the anti-choice movement is to punish women for being sexually active, for getting pregnant, for being the weaker sex and, unfortunately, laws like the ones the Utah State Legislature has passed only serve to bolster this suspicion. I find it interesting that many of the same people who claim to despise government intervention in everything, including health care decisions, are all too happy to have that same government intervene when it comes to the bodies of women. Are women merely incubators for the lives which may be growing inside of them?

*The problem is that they recommendations for pregnant women are constantly evolving and the experts disagree with one another with regards to the risks and benefits of many activities.
**Luck, education and socio-economic class will probably have a lot to do with how feticide laws are applied, but they definitely have a lot to do with whether one finds oneself able to avoid risky behaviors.
***Some have interpreted the wording of the law to exclude women who are unaware they are pregnant. However, how does one define "knowing"? Many people (including me) would argue that a woman who has had sex and missed her period should at least consider the possibility that she is pregnant. Some people might argue that a woman who didn't take a pregnancy test was attempting to skirt the law. I know, this sounds extreme, but is it really any more extreme than the entire law itself?


Popular Posts