One man tricked his ex-girlfriend into taking a drug that may have caused her to miscarry her 6 week embryo. He was charged with murder. Another man allegedly killed his pregnant wife, ending the life of the 15 week fetus she was carrying. His lawyers are arguing that the second death was actually an “unlawful abortion.”
What is different between the two situations? A lot. Examining the two cases shows exactly what a slippery slope criminal charges around the unborn can become.
In the case of Florida man John Weldon, who switched labels on a vial of drugs and told his ex-girlfriend that she needed to take antibiotics for an infection she didn’t actually have, their is little doubt that he intended to end her pregnancy — although whether it was actually the drug that caused the miscarriage or not can’t be medically proven at that point in the pregnancy.
In Minnesota, where Roger Holland is being accused of murdering his wife and, because it was wholly dependent on her, their 15 week pre-viable fetus, the intention may not have ever been to end the pregnancy. But with his lawyers trying to turn a second murder charge into an “unlawful abortion” argument, whether or not Holland intended to end the pregnancy with his actions (if he is found guilty of murdering his wife) could hinge on debate over what actually constitutes an abortion.
Muddying both of these examples is the push for fetal and embryonic “personhood,” a crusade that has been persued mostly through criminal codes because of an inability to get legislatures to pass bills to grant legal rights at the moment of conception, as well as such laws not making it through the courts because they are currently unconstitutional. Instead, numerous states passed laws that allowed additional criminal charges via “Unborn Victims of Violence” Acts, setting up the ability to charge a person with murder if a fetus dies during the commission of a separate crime, pointing to incidents like a pregnant woman beaten during a robbery or the loss of a pregnancy during a drunk driving accident.
Looking at that as the definition, then these two cases should be straight forward. In Minnesota, the fetus died as a result of the violent act committed on the woman who was carrying it. To try to deem it an abortion is absurd, especially if the argument is that the pregnancy unintentionally ended as a result of Holland’s murder.
In Florida, meanwhile, it is just as nonsensical to charge Weldon with “murder” of a 6 week embryo, even under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence act. In the Florida case the intent to cause an abortion is clear and deliberate, from obtaining the drugs to placing a false label on the package to creating a story for his ex-girlfriend to ensure she took the pills. Yet although no one should ever be placed in a position where a pregnancy is ended against her will, to call it an act of physical violence in comparison to a beating, stabbing or something similar is a stretch.
Looking at the two cases it seems obvious that Weldon is far more likely to have committed actions that could fall under the definition of “unlawful abortion” than Holland, and Holland caused far more physical harm. Yet Weldon was initially charged with murder, and Holland’s lawyer, meanwhile, is trying to argue his way out of such a charge.
As legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo notes, however, both cases rely on the same ominous anti-choice refrain: that the state has an interest in protecting fetal life. It’s that interest, and the way anti-choice activists continue to use it to press their agenda via both criminal and legislative measures, that is likely to lead to a point where all abortion is “unlawful” and every person involved will be charge with murder, be it an aggressor, a doctor or a pregnant person trying to end her own pregnancy herself.
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