Anti-choice advocates have a friend in feticide laws.
Akin to personhood laws, as far as I can tell, there is no upside to feticide laws. The supposed intent of such laws is to add a charge of murder to anyone who kills a fetus through violence. However, these laws are often really about criminalizing the behavior of pregnant women and penalizing them for mistakes or even miscarriages.
Take the case of Bei Bei Shuai, the Indianapolis woman whose infant daughter died in her arms at a hospital shortly after birth. Months later, Shuai was arrested and charged with murder and attempted feticide because, while pregnant, Shuai had eaten rat poison in an attempted suicide. The case — which I’m sure will eventually wind up in the Supreme Court for all its implications on the abortion debate — once again casts a pregnant woman as merely an incubator, making her life and choices matter only in as much as they might have an effect on a fetus. Instead of concern or action to address the mental health and emotional needs of pregnant women — as many as 23 percent of pregnant women experience depression — this case serves to shame Shuai for potentially harming a fetus. (There is no evidence that the rat poison led to the death of her child after birth.)
We tell women that their own health and welfare are irrelevant (see: abortion bans even to save a woman’s life). Where are the murder charges for doctors who let a pregnant woman bleed to death rather than perform a life-saving abortion? No. No. No. That wouldn’t happen because that would require outrage that a woman — who is already full formed and alive by all objective and scientific standards — to be protected under the law and held in higher esteem than a fraction of a life, a fetus. For all our worship of Motherhood, women must find joy in pregnancy and parenting no matter how painful or difficult it may be emotionally, financially, or physically. (Shuai attempted suicide after the father of her baby dumped her when she was 30 weeks into the pregnancy.)
Of course, in our society failure is not an option. While I can understand the desire to mourn the loss of a new life — infant mortality is always sad — we must not do so on the backs of women, as if they are our gestational slaves. (Indeed, I see no similar public mourning of the fact that America has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized nation.)
There is no question that feticide is just another brick in the wall that defines how women are second-class citizens to men. Perhaps the patriarchal hierarchy isn’t as simple as the belief that men subjugate women. Perhaps the hierarchy actually goes more like this: men first, then fetuses, then white women, then white children, then “other” women, then gay women… If the stalled reauthorization of VAWA — left to die in Congress because people actually wanted to protect ALL women, including Native American women, immigrants, and gays — is any indication, this may be more true than not.
I don’t care if this is an unpopular statement, but here it is: ALL fully formed people deserve equal protection under the law. Fetuses are not fully formed human beings. And yet, by the laws that we pass, we elevate them above the women who carry them. When you take away someone’s autonomy by enacting law after law that takes away their choices (trying to “think” for them because they are not capable of rational thought on their own) and dehumanize them to such an extent that they are worth less than a cluster of stem cells, that is the very essence of oppression.