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.