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Miscarriage on Trial in Utah

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There’s a new law in Utah mandating women who miscarry, under certain conditions, may face murder charges and life sentences. Know as feticide laws, most often with a focus on abusive boyfriends and husbands, Utah is unique in its new inclusion of the woman herself.

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Association of Pregnant Women, said that feticide laws in other states such as North Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi target a third party and “were passed in response to a pregnant woman who has been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend.”

"(Utah’s law) is directed at the woman herself, and that’s what makes it different and dangerous,” Paltrow explained.

The law went into effect March 8, after a 17 year-old-girl, who was 7 months pregnant, paid a stranger, to beat her up to induce a miscarriage. The fetus survived, and the baby was given up for adoption.

The young woman was charged with second-degree felony in Juvenile Court, but was not charged. At that time a woman could not be held criminally liable for trying to have an abortion on her own. The man who beat the 17 year-old was declared guilty of third degree attempted killing of an unborn child under a state anti-abortion statute. The man was ultimately sentenced to up to five years in prison.

State Rep. Carl Wimmer proposed the first version of what then became the Utah Criminal Homicide and Abortions Revisions bill.

In its original form, the bill criminalized any “reckless” action by a pregnant woman that would cause a miscarriage. Utah Governor Gary Herbert did not sign it due to worry that the vague language meant any pregnant woman who miscarried due to an accident, could face life in prison.

The bill was revised and in its new form carried provisions in which law enforcement officials would have discretion over arrests, as well as investigations.

Lisa Fuentes and Sheila Reynoso, researchers at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health have stated that it is possible, under the revised version, women could be sent to prison for situations in which miscarriages were not intended.

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