Freethought NOW!

Charged for a miscarriage? Yes, that is happening.

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pexels brett sayles 12619528 Charged for a miscarriage? Yes, that is happening.


On July 20, 2021, I opined in Freethought Now that El Salvador’s abortion ban was a harbinger for the United States. Specifically, I mentioned that women were imprisoned for up to 35 years for having a miscarriage or a stillbirth. I warned that if abortion were banned in the United States, we very well could face similar consequences.

That is exactly what is happening.

A 33-year-old woman in Ohio was recently charged with abuse of a corpse because she had a miscarriage at 22 weeks gestation while using the restroom. Forensic pathologist Dr. George Sterbenz testified that the autopsy found no injury to the fetus and that the fetus had died before passing through the birth canal. The woman’s medical records also show that she had visited the hospital twice before the miscarriage.

Defense attorney Traci Timko declared that the woman is “being demonized for something that goes on every day.” She is not wrong. Contrary to what the religious right would have you believe, pregnancy is not a perfect experience.

In fact, miscarriages are quite common. About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage before the 20th week of gestation. Late miscarriages happen before 24 weeks of gestation. In total, about one in fivepregnancies result in miscarriage.

Statistics don’t say enough, however. Once again, women are forced to tell their personal medical stories on public platforms. Women who miscarried in the toilet showed their solidarity on Twitter. Take a look at these two stories.

@DrJenGunter: “I delivered at 22 weeks into a toilet. It is panic. Absolute panic. My body told me it was a bowel movement. I was in a hospital and an OB/GYN and all I could do was scream. The fetus is very small. I can see someone doing this. It’s not abusing a corpse. FFS.”

@ProfLCB: “I had a miscarriage into a toilet during my 1L year. I did not fish out the tissue and attempt to bury it somewhere because I lived in a rented apartment. What was I supposed to do — clandestinely bury it in a public park? Potted plant? I just sobbed and screamed and flushed.”

Such stories show the reality of pregnancy loss for many people. And while it is important to discuss the reality of pregnancy and loss, it can be dangerous to do so. Bounty laws across the country incentivize individuals to sue one another. That very well could be how the Ohioan was charged with a crime: She may have confided in someone who reported her to the police.

This is the post-Roe reality devised by the religious right. Not only is it increasingly more difficult to have an abortion but a woman can be punished for losing a pregnancy through no fault of her own — and criminalized  for sharing her experiences with friends and family.

This will continue, as will criminal charges, because anti-abortion legislators adhere to faith, not facts or science.

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4 Responses

  1. Looking back, and since I can’t edit, I want to add that my choice of words “very unsavory” in the above critique was not a good choice. The source article doesn’t sensationalize the incident like that, and overall the situation is horrific for the victim and should be understood as a tragedy. Still the fact remains that that added detail of the defendant’s case is, imo, obscured on purpose in this blog post, and I don’t think that’s the right approach to this issue.

    I also don’t think it’s right for a state to put a victim of a miscarriage through such legal scrutiny, but I hope my original point stands—that the case proceeded for reasons not related to the simple act of miscarriage.

  2. Look, I’m not here to argue that the Dobbs ruling isn’t a dystopian harbinger of the failure of human rights in the US, but you’re clearly purposefully obscuring a VERY unsavory detail of this case, which is early on noted in the source article you linked to. This poor young woman’s actions after the miscarriage are the reason the case is continuing, NOT the mere fact that she miscarried.

    This post employs a similar rhetorical tactic that many right-wing agitators use when they want to drum up hate against women and the very concept of abortion rights: hope readers stick to the details only found in a shocking headline and in the biased selection of quotes from a main source, and move on, agitated.

    FFRF should know better. This kind of “opinion” sharing (i.e. false reporting) is not a good look for an organization that wants to be taken seriously or that wishes to profess unbiased positions on church and state. It’s the kind of tactic I’m sure many members would rather not align with, being committed to “reason” as they are.

    Though I believe FFRF’s mission to be a necessary and important one, it has to do better than this: low-hanging fruit for conservatives to point to and cry foul. It’s certainly not helping in the fight for reproductive rights.

    1. I disagree with you J. This woman was likely severely traumatized by this event. To assume she had engaged in some unsavory behavior is so very sad on the part of the justice system where she lives. This has happened to parents who have lost children through SIDS. It is so sad to charge here with anything. I don’t think this article demonstrated any intent to mislead.

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