Who decides? Reproductive Justice advocates think you should

Elisabeth Smith, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Washington School of Law)

On Saturday, February 2nd, my LSRJ chapter hosted a conference titled “Reproductive Justice: Meta Rights and Milestones.” In the process of organizing the conference, I’ve thought a lot about RJ’s meta rights: the right to have a child; the right not to have a child; and the right to parent the children you have with dignity, free from violence and oppression. Two recent news stories demonstrated how some people with privilege have attempted to limit those rights by ridiculously redefining them.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the New Mexico GOP state representative, Cathrynn Brown, who introduced a bill last week that would bar abortions for rape victims. How you ask? Well, by making it a felony for women who become pregnant as the result of rape to have an abortion because an abortion is, by the bill’s definition, evidence tampering.


When this story went viral, the esteemed representative released a mind-twister of a statement:“House Bill 206 was never intended to punish or criminalize rape victims. It’s intent was solely to deter rape and cases of incest. The rapist–not the victim– would be charged with tampering of evidence.”

So, the rapist whose assault “created” the evidence would also be charged with tampering with that evidence if his victim chose not to have a child? Hmmm. Try substituting another crime into this scenario if you want to really see how ridiculous it is.

Just over the border in Colorado, another story emerged. As a defense to a medical malpractice suit, lawyers for St. Thomas More hospital, a Catholic hospital in Cañon City, Colorado, argued that a fetus is not a person.  The hospital is run by Catholic Health Initiatives, a national chain that follows the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Part IV of the directives state “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn and the care of women and their children during and after pregnancy. [at p23] Many people have crowed about the hypocrisy of championing the legal argument that a fetus is not a person while at the same time prohibiting abortion and contraception on the theory that life begins at conception.

In New Mexico, a fetus becomes evidence and at Catholic hospitals following the bishops’ directives, a fetus is a fetus in cases of medical malpractice, but not when someone would like access to contraceptives or abortion. In such cases, your ability to decide how and when to have a child or how to grieve for lives that you anticipated welcoming is interpreted through the prism of someone else’s ideology and whether its convenient for them to demonstrate some consistency.

Those who oppose the right to have an abortion need to demonstrate integrity to their position. Abortion is not felony “evidence tampering” and if life begins at conception, it does so even when money is at stake.