Thursday, February 26, 2004

I heard on NPR that the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make an attack on a pregnant woman as two separate crimes (the Associated Press article on the story can be read here).

This essay is not to say the bill is not to say the bill is good or bad. It's a pretty tricky issue. From a legal standpoint, it's hard to justify an attack on a pregnant woman as two crimes particularly if the woman is not obviously pregnant. Intent plays a role in the law. On the other hand, it's hard for me accept that the fetus is merely an appendage the same way as an arm or an ear. I remember the case of a local woman who gave birth to a drunk baby. That kid was born quite possibly with fetal alcohol syndrome and brain damage. The effects were suffered by an undeniable human baby even if it was done before the baby was born. Can you imagine telling him 15 years later, "Hey kid, we're sorry you had permanent brain damage but cheer up, it happened back when you were legally worthless"? Saying a fetus has the same status as a toe doesn't work for me. I wish a good solution, aside encouraging pregnant mothers to act responsibly. [For more on this, see my essay What about the baby's rights?]

Critics charged that the bill was a backdoor effort to undermine abortion by giving fetuses distinct legal status.

Supporters denied this charge saying that language in the bill specifically protects legal abortion.

Although this was an attempt to appease abortion rights activists, it makes the bizarreness even more evident. The bill makes illegal to INJURE a fetus but protects efforts to TERMINATE the fetus altogether. It's like saying "It's ok if you kill someone, just don't break their nose."

Of course, such absurdity is at home in an American legal system. The state torturing a prisoner is an unconstitutional violation of the 8th Amendment, but the state actually murdering that prisoner is perfectly acceptable.

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