Last week Georgia state Representative Bobby Franklin introduced a bill to his state legislature that would make miscarriage a felony unless a woman can prove she wasn’t at fault for causing it. Miscarriages must be reported to the state within 72 hours. If a woman miscarries at home, she is subject to investigation by “a proper investigating official” to ensure that there was “no human involvement whatsoever.” People who report their suspicions about the cause of an apparent miscarriage to the state registrar are protected against law suits.
This is an outrage to human dignity, regardless of your opinion on abortion.
Pregnancy, and pregnancy loss, and birth, and breastfeeding, are not merely physical events, they are life events. They are private and emotional. During each, a woman requires compassion and sensitive support as well as health care.
After a pregnancy loss, she needs time to heal her body and her feelings. It is not a time for her to worry about whether her paperwork is in order to protect herself against criminal prosecution. It is completely inappropriate, demeaning, and inhumane to require a woman who has miscarried to defend herself and her pregnancy against investigation by a state official.
Eleven years ago, I miscarried my first pregnancy. Bits of it I remember well. It was Valentines Day and I was walking home from work, hungry, and considered stopping to eat a tangerine. I decided to keep walking and eat at home, instead. At home, I began bleeding. After a trip to the doctor and an ultrasound, my doctor advised bedrest. A few days later, after a followup, the fetus looked normal and I went back to work. Weeks later, however, at a routine checkup, there was no fetal heartbeat. It was over. I was almost 14 weeks pregnant.
I remember the look on my doctor’s face when he couldn’t find a heartbeat on his Doppler.
I remember how the radiologist shook his head when he looked at the ultrasound screen.
I remember feeling as though the magical calendar that had been growing in my mind – the family wedding in the spring when we’d tell the cousins! Heavily pregnant all summer! A baby in time for the Jewish holidays! – withered away. The rest of the year would not, now, unfold as a pregnancy “week by week” according to the emails I subscribed to. That family wedding would be, instead, the wedding where we would have told them. We would somehow go back to regular life.
I remember thinking a lot about whether I should have eaten that tangerine.
I remember my secretary telling me, the next week, that it probably happened because I worked too hard. She may as well have come out with the real accusation: “Didn’t you want this pregnancy? Or do you care about your job more?” It was agony, no matter how much I knew it wasn’t true.
In Georgia, she could have reported that to my file for the investigation. Perhaps the investigator would have agreed that my long hours constituted “human involvement”; that I’d brought it on myself.
That first night, after the D&C, when it was all still a blur, my sisters in law brought cheese and bread and fruit in a beautiful wooden basket. My parents came, and I remember that their sad faces were not only for me, but reflected their own grief – still – over their two pregnancy losses decades earlier.
We gathered in my livingroom, and although I was a grown woman, a litigator at a big New York law firm, my mom set the table, prepared the food, even cleared my plate. My dad put his arm around my husband. One sister in law brought me a sweater and the other helped me to bed.
I was cared for with dignity and respect. I felt protected when I was vulnerable. To this day, in my work with new mothers, I model myself on the care I received that night.
This is what a woman needs – not only after birth and during the transition to parenthood, but when she miscarries. It is completely inappropriate to put upon her, instead, some burden of readying herself for an investigation by a state beaurocrat who might, in his zeal to uncover a possible abortion, exacerbate her already obsessive thoughts about whether she ate enough tangerines or worked too hard. A woman who is pregnant, or who has lost a pregnancy, or has come to the end of a pregnancy and is caring for a child, needs her dignity, first and foremost, so that she can take care of herself.
Please join me, then, in writing a letter to the legislators of Georgia strongly opposing the bill, for the sake of all women and their partners. You can send letters to Georgia’s Congresspeople here.