In Indianapolis, Indiana, a Chinese immigrant who attempted suicide is being charged with murder because the attempt affected her fetus, leading to the death of the infant four days after it was born. The implications for this case cannot be underestimated because it could radically undermine the autonomy of women while pregnant.
"If we allowed the state to put a woman in jail for anything that could pose a risk to her pregnancy, there would be nothing to stop the police putting in jail a woman who has a drink of wine or who smokes. So where do you draw the line?"
[Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union] said there had been an alarming rise in the number of such cases across the US. Some women's groups put the rise down to pressure on prosecutors from anti-abortion groups. ...
Kathrine Jack, a lawyer with the NAPW, who meets Shuai about once a week, said that after the initial suicide attempt, she had regained hope. "She has been on a rollercoaster," said the lawyer, who argued that women such as Shuai should, rather than being locked up, receive medical and psychiatric help.
Jack, who has been involved in dozens of similar cases where women were charged as a result of incidents while pregnant, said: "Prosecutions like this are increasing in the US and are a result of anti-abortion rhetoric and movements that seek to give the foetus rights above and beyond those of women.
"If it was allowed to stand, it would not outlaw abortion right away but it would be a significant step along the way."
The significance of this case would be difficult to underestimate. Although it doesn't deal directly with abortion, the implications for the abortion debates are clear: just how much autonomy does a woman have over her own body and how much authority does the state have to restrict a woman's decisions about her body? At what point does the state have the authority to instruct women what they may and may not do with own bodies?
Under other circumstances, if I take actions which cause a person to suffer -- even if they don't die -- I can be held responsible and even charged with crimes. Normally, though, that can only happen if I take actions that extend beyond my own body. There aren't any good analogies where a person does something to their own bodies and then a second person suffers at some later date.
There's no question but that this is a tragic case and also that there are difficult issues involved. At the end of the day, though, the fact remains that it would be very dangerous to decide that certain people have less autonomy over their bodies than others, or even that no one has real bodily autonomy. We don't want the state to have that kind of power over our bodies and our organs, do we?