At least 38 states have fetal homicide laws—including Washington State—ostensibly to protect pregnant women from abusive partners and violent attacks by strangers. And at least 21 of these state laws apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy—i.e. "fertilization" or "conception." But instead of targeting abusive men and violent attackers, these laws are primarily being used to prosecute women who suffer miscarriages:
South Carolina was one of the first states to introduce such a foetal homicide law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has found only one case of a South Carolina man who assaulted a pregnant woman having been charged under its terms, and his conviction was eventually overturned. Yet the group estimates there have been up to 300 women arrested for their actions during pregnancy.
The way the laws are being interpreted whittles down women's importance to what they have gestating in their bodies. Pregnant? Congratulations, you are now little more than a walking womb! Miscarry and you become a criminal:
Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit—though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death—they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
I expect someone to quickly point out that this girl somehow deserves a mandatory life sentence for reportedly using drugs while pregnant, just as this woman deserved to be arrested for falling down a flight of stairs while pregnant. Because, in the end, it's always the woman's fault.
Heavy-hearted curtsies to Brendan.