Iowa Republicans have introduced a bill that redefines murder to include knowingly “killing” a fertilized egg. This law would lead to the imprisonment of women who have abortions (currently, approximately one-third of women in the U.S. will have an abortion in their lifetime) as well as women who use certain types of birth control that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.
This law is similar to personhood legislation that has been seen on ballots and in legislatures in recent years, but it’s the first to boldly champion criminal consequences for women.
The anti-abortion movement has long struggled with what should happen to women who have illegal abortions if abortion is made illegal again. Recent anti-abortion legislation has focused on criminal punishment of doctors who provide abortion procedures, while female abortion patients are confronted with efforts to burden and shame their access to abortion care (waiting periods, ultrasound and biased counseling requirements).
Criminalizing abortion would not eliminate its existence: it was estimated that pre-Roe v. Wade somewhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed per year.
Some may argue that the criminalization of abortion in one state would simply require women to travel to another state to acquire an abortion, as did occur pre-Roe v. Wade. This, however, would result in a disproportionate number of murder prosecutions of poor and minority women, who do not have the resources to take time off work and travel long distances for days at a time.
Do Americans really want to send women who choose to have abortions to jail? If not, how can we make law and not punish people who violate it? A law like this one, in the hands of a zealous prosecutor, could put as many as one third of Iowa’s women in jail. This is the true nature of outlawing abortion and hopefully a wake-up call to anyone who has considered personhood legislation rational.