Pregnant Women's Dignity Act

 

Summary: The Pregnant Women’s Dignity Act would protect women who suffer a pregnancy loss from investigation by law enforcement, judicial or administrative authorities.

Background Summary

Law enforcement authorities are investigating and prosecuting women who have lost a pregnancy. In recent years, 38 states have enacted so-called “fetal homicide” laws. Although legislators generally approved these bills to prosecute people who commit a crime against a pregnant woman, they are now being used to punish women who suffer a pregnancy loss, based on the idea that they might have intentionally or negligently caused it.

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women have documented hundreds of such cases. For example:

  • In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for attempted fetal homicide.
  • In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.
  • In Louisiana, a woman who went to the hospital for unexplained vaginal bleeding was imprisoned for over a year based on charges of second-degree murder before medical records revealed she had suffered a miscarriage at 11 to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
  • In South Carolina, a woman who was eight months pregnant attempted suicide by jumping out a window. She survived despite suffering severe injuries but because she lost the pregnancy, she was arrested and jailed for the crime of homicide by child abuse.
  • In Mississippi, a girl became pregnant at age 15 and lost her baby in a stillbirth. Prosecutors charged her with a “depraved heart murder” after they discovered she had used cocaine, although there was “no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death.”

In the United States, approximately one million known pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth each year and it is inconceivable that any one could be the subject of criminal investigation. As many as 15 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage and, in addition, approximately 26,000 end in stillbirth and 19,000 in neonatal deaths.

Government investigations of women who lose a pregnancy are not worth the trauma they inflict. Such investigations will deter women from seeking medical care after they’ve experienced a pregnancy loss and undermine the crucial doctor-patient relationship as health care providers are pressured to collect evidence against their patients.


Model Legislation

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE

This Act shall be called the “Pregnant Women’s Dignity Act.”

SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE

(A) FINDINGS—The legislature finds that:

1)      The argument that “life begins at conception” has been used to justify police powers in response to pregnancy loss, including law enforcement investigation, arrest and prosecution.

2)      In the United States, approximately one million known pregnancies per year end as a result of miscarriage and stillbirth.

3)      As many as 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. An additional one percent of pregnancies—approximately 26,000 per year—end in stillbirth and 19,000 end in neonatal deaths.

4)      The actual number of pregnancies lost is likely to be substantially higher because many occur before women even know they are pregnant.

5)      Some law enforcement authorities have begun investigations of women on the suspicion that they did something to intentionally or negligently end their pregnancies.

6)      In countries where abortion is largely criminalized, such as in El Salvador, there are an increasing number of cases involving bedside interrogations and prosecutions of women who have lost their pregnancies.

7)      Because it is difficult to distinguish between pregnancy loss that results from abortion and pregnancy loss that results from miscarriage and stillbirth, women subject to investigation have an extremely difficult time defending themselves.

8)      Government investigations of women who lose their pregnancies inflict trauma on those who are already suffering and represent a profound disruption of the women’s family life and their ability to care for the children they already have.

9)      Such government investigations will deter women from seeking medical care after they’ve experienced a pregnancy loss.

10)  Such government investigations will undermine the crucial doctor-patient relationship as health care providers are pressured to collect evidence against their patients.

(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to ensure that women who experience pregnancy losses are not subjected to government investigation. 

SECTION 3. PROTECTION OF WOMEN WHO LOSE A PREGNANCY

After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:

(A) DEFINITIONS—In this section:

1)      “Pregnancy outcome” means the result of a pregnancy, including miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, neonatal death, and the birth of a child who survives.

2)      “State” means the state and every county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal corporation, and public institution of higher education in the state.

(B) POLICY AGAINST INVESTIGATION OF WOMEN WHO LOSE A PREGNANCY

1)      It shall be the policy of this State to prohibit government authorities from investigating women based on their pregnancy outcomes.

2)      No police agency or sheriff’s office shall initiate a criminal investigation based on a woman’s pregnancy outcome.

3)      No state judicial authority shall authorize a search warrant or a subpoena for health records related to a woman’s pregnancy outcome, or compel a woman or a medical professional to testify about a woman’s pregnancy outcome.

4)      No state social services agency shall initiate an investigation of a woman based upon that woman’s pregnancy outcome.

5)      No person who is a mandatory reporter under [state law that designates certain people like social workers, teachers and doctors as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect] shall be required, expected or encouraged to inform child welfare authorities about a woman’s pregnancy outcome.

SECTION 4. REPEAL

The following sections are hereby repealed: [list existing provisions inconsistent with this Act].

SECTION 5. EFFECTIVE DATE

This Act shall take effect on XXXX 1, 2016.

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