Candace Gibson, University of Utah College of Law
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In May 2009, a 17-year-old girl in Naples, Utah, was pregnant. She was charged with second-degree felony criminal solicitation to commit murder. Why was she charged? She solicited a man to punch her in the stomach so that she would miscarry. He accepted $150 from her, took her to the basement of his parent’s house, and kicked her in the stomach five times. According to the young girl, who is now a young adult, she solicited the assault because her boyfriend threatened to break up with her if she did not terminate her pregnancy. A juvenile court dismissed her case in 2009, but the Utah Supreme Court this past December reversed their decision. They reasoned that an assault does not meet the statutory definition of abortion and now this young woman may face criminal penalties for this tragic incident in her life.
I don’t disagree with the Utah Supreme Court in saying that abortion as imagined by our state’s legislators is a medical procedure, although the term “medical” will most likely be co-opted by the Anti-Choice movement to exclude abortions achieved through pharmaceuticals (see the case of an Idaho woman who terminated her own pregnancy by ordering RU486 online and was charged with a felony). What I do disagree with is the numerous laws passed by state legislatures to restrict abortion services to the point that Roe v. Wade doesn’t make any impact in the lives of women who need it the most. Remember what Justice Ginsburg said at the Aspen Institute in 2010, “If the court were to change its mind . . . the only women who would be truly affected are poor women. Because even at the time before Roe, women who wanted abortions could have a safe, legal abortion.” The problem is, this great Justice has forgotten that most poor women still can’t have abortions because of the Hyde Amendment.
This young woman in Utah should have had the right to decide to be a parent, to give her born child up for adoption, or to have an abortion without emotional abuse from her boyfriend or having to deal with the heinous consequences and obstacles of laws that ultimately regulate abortions out of existence. As the Guttmacher Institute said in their awesome video, “There will always be women who need abortions.”