A pregnant bank teller who lost the twins she was carrying after being shot during a holdup choked back tears Saturday as she recalled lying on the bank’s floor, bleeding and pleading for help, as the gunman demanded money from her co-workers.
Katherin Shuffield, who had been five months pregnant, said that a nurse showed she and Jason photos of their twins, and that each fetus could have fit in the palm of her hand.
“When I see the pictures with my husband we always try to be strong and don’t cry. But it’s hard to see that they were so little,” she said, her voice cracking.
Indiana law allows prosecutors to charge people with murder in cases where a fetus dies, but only if the mother is at least seven months pregnant.
Because Shuffield was five months pregnant, officials can pursue charges only of feticide, which carries a lesser sentence of two to eight years in prison. The maximum prison time for murder is 65 years under state law. (CNN)
A new twist on the feticide concept has now brought the issue full circle. In Whitner v. State, No. 2446 (S.C. Oct 27,1997) the Supreme Court of South Carolina held that a viable fetus was a “person” for the purposes of the state’s child neglect statute. In doing so, the court upheld a woman’s conviction for criminal child neglect for ingesting crack cocaine while pregnant in her third term, thus causing her child to be born with cocaine products in its system. This blurs the tidy distinction between maternal-authorized actions and non-maternal-authorized actions. (Feticide statues and cases)
These prosecutions, if upheld would create legal precedent for the finding that women, upon becoming pregnant lose their civil and human rights. If a pregnant woman can be viewed as a child abuser before she ever gives birth, or as a murderer because she can not guarantee a healthy birth outcome, she ceases to exist as a full human being and full rights bearing citizen. (National Advocates for Pregnant Women)
So what are your thoughts? Treating fetuses as “people” seems to be contingent on harm, and furthermore–the person doing the harm. Maternal harm = bad, non maternal harm = what can we do? Obviously granting the legal personhood to unborn fetuses, creates an issue (perhaps even a slippery slope?). At the same time, the artificial borders enacted by the courts for abortion and late term abortion already appear to draw a line in the sand denoting the point at which a fetus become viable, and furthermore turns into a potential person. The pregnancy in question was past the point of viability, and the woman intended to carry it to term–so what should the punishment be for a person who takes this choice away from her?
Personally, I feel that the person experiencing the harm is the one who defines that harm–but there is no room for that in the laws as they stand. I hate to analogize things that aren’t analogous, but it really reminds me of rape prosecutions. There is little room for defining your experience as rape alone, it has to be supported by the evidence, as determined by the laws, that support the notion of rape. Your words and impression of your experience is not enough. Likewise, the impression of a person carrying a fetus does not carry weight in determining the personhood of that fetus. So…thoughts?