The Answer to Solving Problems? Criminalize Everything!

HB462 Criminal Homicide and Abortion Revisions, the replacement bill for HB12 Criminal Homicide and Abortion Amendments, passed both the House and the Senate yesterday on The Hill.  The bill is headed to the Governor’s desk for signing on Monday.

The news has hit the New York Times and Ms. Magazine (which references Utah Legislature Watch).

The bill’s original language was amended to take out the word “reckless”

…. in reference to behavior but retains “intentional” acts by the woman that cause an abortion as grounds for a charge of aggravated murder.

The measure doesn’t change the state’s legal abortion statutes but establishes Utah as the only state to set parameters on when a woman can be held criminally responsible for causing the end of a pregnancy at her own hand or means outside a doctor’s care.

(Deseret News)

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, expressed that interpretations of the bill’s language were “fabrications”.

Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said his original bill was designed to go after mothers who recklessly use illegal drugs and lose their fetus and insisted that claims it could extend more broadly were “an absolute farce and a lie.”

“The rumors,” he said, “that this bill allowed women to be charged for slipping on ice or driving down the road without her seat belt and getting in an accident: total fabrication.”

(Salt Lake Tribune)

Wimmer drafted the bill in response to an incident involving a 17 year old pregnant woman who paid a man to beat her until she miscarried (the fetus survived and has been adopted)

Democrats in the legislature are still wary about the bill:

Democrats commended Wimmer for revising his bill, but many remain unconvinced the legislation is needed at all. Democratic Representative Brian King said empowering the state to “poke around in the bedrooms and doctor’s offices” of Utahns runs counter to the Legislature’s conservative nature.


“You know, sometimes I think the disconnect between our words, and what we claim are our stated beliefs and what we do are so great that we ought to treat some of our members for whiplash. It’s that, there’s that big a gap,” said King.



“We just shouldn’t empower the state to the degree this bill does to poke around in the bedrooms and doctors’ offices of you and me and our children. It’s contrary to conservative principles,” he[King] said, suggesting the inconsistency is so stark that the Legislature should have a doctor on hand “to treat some of our members for whiplash.”

(Salt Lake Tribune)

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, spoke against HB462.

“I want to remind the body that what prompted this bill and this whole issue was the pregnancy of a 17-yer-old woman who hired someone to assist her in an abortion,” Romero said, noting there could be a better way to deal with the issue besides criminalizing that act.

“A better policy would be to have better education and resources available in the community so we can stop pregnancies before they become an issue.”

(Salt Lake Tribune)

Planned Parenthood of Utah Action Council sent out this announcement yesterday on the bill:

Today the Utah legislature passed House Bill 462, intended to supplant House Bill 12, which could criminalize women who miscarry as a result of acting “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.”  House Bill 462 removes “recklessly” from the list of culpable mental states, but continues to impose criminal liability on women who miscarry “intentionally or knowingly.”  While the removal of liability for reckless behavior is a small step in the right direction, this bill is still a huge step backward for women.  We want to thank those Representatives and Senators who showed their continued dedication to women’s choice and well-being by voting against this bill.

Karen McCreary has posted a piece at the ACLU Blog of Rights, in which she states, in reference to the incident that was the driving force behind this bill,

It’s important to solve problems, not exacerbate them. Charging a desperate teenager with a crime solves nothing. Clearly, this teenager, like other women facing unintended pregnancies, needs our support. Everyone’s circumstances are different. We should be making laws and policies that ensure that every woman, no matter what her situation, can get the health care she needs. We should not be putting up obstacles to care or threatening to prosecute women who need our compassion. The medical community is clear: prosecuting pregnant women for their behavior can dangerously drive a woman who is most in need of help away from seeking services. We all suffer when that happens. We also need to provide our youth with medically appropriate information about sex and its consequences in our public schools, to ensure that our young people are equipped with the information they need to avoid facing this situation in the first place.

Ms. McCreary ends her piece with this plea:

Gov. Herbert is now faced with a decision. We hope that he will realize that making criminals out of women in unthinkably hard circumstances is not the answer. Gov. Herbert should veto this legislation, and the legislature should turn its attention to supporting, not criminalizing those who most need our compassion and assistance. The eyes of the nation are on Utah; it is time to do the right thing.

Punitive measures are not the answer to solving problems in our society.  An examination of the justice system proves that.  The U.S. tops the world in the number of prisoners – this from Wikipedia (which sites sources):

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. incarceration rate on December 31, 2008 was 754 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. The USA also has the highest total documented prison and jail population in the world.

(NY Times article here; Bureau of Justice Statistics here.).

Education is key.  Programs that help people are key.  That is where our legislators should be spending their energies and our tax dollars – not on continued measures that in the end prove to be ineffective and do not address underlying issues to problems.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)


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