Sen. Obenshain’s miscarriage criminalization bill.

Sen. Mark Obenshain is trying to criminalize miscarriages. Old-timers in the Virginia political blogosphere may remember when Del. John Cosgrove tried this in 2005. That was hoot. Maura Keaney had him on Nightline within days. Cosgrove had some cock-and-bull story about how the bill didn’t do that at all, accusing bloggers of making it all up, but he ultimately withdrew the bill out of embarrassment.

Won’t this be fun?

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

28 replies on “Sen. Obenshain’s miscarriage criminalization bill.”

  1. Why, why, why? I can’t even imagine what he hopes to accomplish with this bill. I believe that something like 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Even if we don’t consider the psychological pain for women having to comply with this law, the sheer amount of additional cost and bureaucracy it would generate is ridiculous.

  2. Wow, I can’t believe they re-introduced this abomination again! (And thanks for the props, Waldo. I’m back in Virginia, by the way!)

    I’ve only had a chance to glance at it, but it looks like the only difference between this and Cosgrove’s is that he changed the time limit to report the “fetal death” from 12 to 24 hours. (Generous. Not.)

    I sent an alert to my friend Cecily at Uppercase Woman, one of the infertility bloggers who really pushed it last time, to try to get the word out before tomorrow’s hearing.

    Damn, this makes me almost want to start blogging again.

    Richmond Sunlight is incredible, by the way. :-)

  3. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why. It’s just wrong. There’s something fundamentally wrong with anyone who would try to do this to another human being.

  4. Under current law, if a woman shoots herself in the stomach to kill her unborn baby, she cannot be convicted with a felony. Plug “Tammy Skinner” into your google thingie.

    Do you seriously think that any Commonwealth’s Attorney is going to bring charges against a woman who has a miscarriage? Surely none of you are that obtuse.
    Surely not.

  5. Do you seriously think that we should put in the hands of commonwealth’s attorneys whether a woman should be charged with a crime for having a miscarriage? Surely you’re not that obtuse.
    Surely not.

  6. ::rolls eyes::

    Any CA, in any court in the commonwealth, would be run out of court on a rail, and end his career as a laughingstock, if he brought charges against a woman for a simple miscarriage. C’mon… you know this. You’re a smart guy.

  7. Well gosh, then maybe we should just get rid of the legislature, and just let each Commonwealth’s Attorney decide who should be put on trial for what and by what standards. We can be sure the CA will only make good decisions, for fear of being laughed at.

    (See, there *is* a market for Obenshain’s brand of douchebaggery, and Publius seems to represent it.)

  8. I have heard from people across the Commonwealth about S.B. 962, and I appreciate the comments of those who have weighed in here and elsewhere. This legislation was drafted at the request of the Commonwealth Attorney for Rockingham County in response to a specific law enforcement issue. There has been much talk about the intent of this bill; however, my motives are not nearly as sinister as those being attributed to me. As drafted, I agree that the bill is far too broad, and as it currently reads, it would have ramifications that neither the Commonwealth Attorney nor I ever intended.

    Let me tell you what motivated the bill. In the autumn of 2007, a student at Bridgewater College admitted to giving birth and subsequently disposing of the child’s remains in a trash bin. The body was then transported to the landfill and never recovered, so it is impossible to know whether the child was stillborn or born alive. In the course of the investigation that followed, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office discovered that, under current law, there are no direct prohibitions on disposing of fetal remains. Had the student in question not disposed of the remains on private property not her own, no charges whatsoever would have been possible.

    The following article from Harrisonburg’s Daily News Record provides an account of the incident that precipitated this legislation:

    Let me be clear: I do not support imposing an added burden on women who suffer a miscarriage and I will not allow any legislation that could have that effect to get out of committee. I am working with a variety of interested parties from across the political spectrum to see if it is possible to rewrite this bill so that it addresses only the narrow law enforcement objective. If this proves impossible, I will have the bill stricken.

    I am grateful for the opportunity to explain this bill. I am hopeful that it will be possible to amend this legislation eliminate unintended consequences while still meeting the narrow law enforcement objectives I intended.

  9. I.Publius, I find it astonishing that a political conservative like yourself (or so I’ve perceived over the years) is arguing in favor of what you seem to acknowledge is overly-broad legislation. If you agree that a CA would be in the legal right to prosecute a woman for a miscarriage, as you seem to imply you do, but you also think that it would be bad if that actually happened, as you’ve said you do, then why are you defending it? Passing laws we disagree with and then relying solely on CAs ignoring said laws seems like a mind-bogglingly bad idea.

  10. I have heard from people across the Commonwealth…

    Thanks, Senator. I wasn’t one of the people who thought you were an evil misogynist who just wants to throw grieving mothers in jail, but I do appreciate that you’re taking the time to review and rewrite the bill. Hopefully you can come up with wording that will address situations like the one at Bridgewater College without placing a burden on mothers who innocently suffer a miscarriage.

  11. It’s not necessary to ascribe misogynistic motives to the Senator, but it is certainly legitimate to critize him for introducing a preposterously broad bill if it is truly meant to address the very narrow situation of trying to find a legal means to prosecute women who may be guilty of commiting murder of an infant. It is understandably frustrating to law enforcement officials who suspect murder but cannot discern whether fetal remains indicate stillbirth.

    However, it is unfathomable to me that Sen. Obenshain introduced this bill after a nearly identical one was withdrawn four years ago without addressing any of the concerns that prompted outrage from women around the world.

    I see no evidence that “fetal death” has been redefined in the statutes, and in 2005 it referred to any product of conception, regardless of gestational age.

    I would prefer to see the Senator openly and specifically address the concerns that were raised about the nearly identical bill four years ago rather than resort to re-telling a tragic story that this bill clearly does not address.

  12. Will, it would be a tool in a CA’s toolbox to prosecute women who intentionally kill their full term babies. Nothing more. Do you also think that CA’s are going to be rummaging around OB-GYN offices looking for women who had miscarriages? Get real.

  13. Let me preface this comment by saying that this is a horrible bill (lest someone respond without reading the whole comment).

    So I read the full text of this bill, and I can’t see how anyone can say it “miscarriage criminalization.” If anything, this bill would criminalize the non-reporting of miscarriages to the proper authorities, and filling out a lot of paperwork. Now, I am in complete agreement with the majority here that this is an undue and inhumane burden on women who suffer miscarriage. But that is a far stretch from criminalizing miscarriages.

    What’s disappointing to me is that this bill gets the I-didn’t-intend-it-to-be-this-broad treatment. Am I wrong in expecting more from legislators? You want to try to craft a law to deal with the Bridgewater case? Fine. But to think this bill could possibly be that response is ridiculous.

    If someone were to admit that this bill could place extra burdens on women who suffer miscarriages, but in the end, the government’s interest in protecting potentially-viable fetuses outweighs this burden. . .I’d at respect the honesty. I’d think that person was dead wrong, of course. But it would be, in my eyes, better than the Senator’s response.

    MB said on his blog that “This is akin to drafting a bill outlawing the driving of any car you didn’t buy yourself, and claiming that it is aimed at reducing car theft.” Really, I think the “unintended” consequences of this bill are that obvious, and I seriously question the common sense of a legislator and Commonwealth Attorney who claim not to have seen them.

  14. Sorry for the minor threadjack, but, Kaveh, is that you? Please email me at

    On topic…

    I.Publius said: “it would be a tool in a CA’s toolbox to prosecute women who intentionally kill their full term babies.” Yea, let’s be sure to have a very broad law on the books to stop that epidemic now! Just like razor blades in Halloween apples. ::eyeroll::

  15. Yup. There’s only one of me out there. Though, to be fair, it is more understandable a question than “Nikki, is that you?” :-)

  16. Any CA, in any court in the commonwealth, would be run out of court on a rail, and end his career as a laughingstock, if he brought charges against a woman for a simple miscarriage. C’mon… you know this. You’re a smart guy.

    Any woman, in any locality in the commonwealth, would be run out of town on a rail and end her reputation as a laughingstock, if she shot herself in the stomach in order to induce a miscarriage. C’mon… you know this. You’re a smart guy.

    I can do this all day. :)

  17. Publius said:

    it would be a tool in a CA’s toolbox to prosecute women who intentionally kill their full term babies

    So, uh… Why not just have the law say that, instead of being broader than it needs to be?

  18. First we have the Obenshain Noose’s of Hate Bill, then the Privatize the ABC and Make the Commonwealth $700 Million Per Year Bill, and now this. For the love of God Senator, sharpen your pencil. A roomful of stoned teenagers have more clarity.

  19. FWIW, I think that privatizing the ABC is a great idea, substantially because the courts are bound to force the state to sell ’em off anyway. I’m not thrilled with Sen. Obenshain’s bill, because I think that this could be done better, but it’s a direction that I think the state needs to go in.

  20. The problem is with the Senator’s math and motives. He uses the same flaky unsubstantiated claims that brought us Trickle-Down (non)Prosperity, and Credit Default Swap Ruin. When he resorts to making stuff up to sell an idea, you wonder what else he’s up to. Well, check VPAP to see his contributions from the alcohol industry. You know, the guys who stand to profit by all those new alcohol outlets. They of course will advocate the socialization of the cost of easier access to alcohol.

  21. That’s exactly what I’m worried about, Bubby. If the courts break up the ABC, then it’ll be done on the terms of private business. But if the state does it now, we ought to be able to do it in a way that’s best for government, business, and the citizens of the commonwealth. The way it’s being pitched now, it seems to me that it’ll only work out for business.

  22. So, uh… Why not just have the law say that, instead of being broader than it needs to be?

    Because, uh, we already have such a law on the books, and it’s obviously not sufficient.

    The real issue here is that pro-abortion folks don’t want full-term, viable, unborn babies to be considered “persons” under the law, nor treated like the human beings that they are. It’s a lot more politically correct to make asinine claims about authorities hounding every woman who has a miscarriage.

  23. No, I’m pretty sure the real issue is that self-proclaimed conservatives like you lose all pretense of commitment to principle once someone like Obenshain blows a dog whistle. Kinda creepy.

  24. MB, the only relevant principle here, and one that I adhere to unswervingly, is that all human beings are entitled to basic human rights. I don’t draw an arbitrary line during a baby’s growth inside her mother and say, “Ok, NOW she’s a person… a minute ago, she was just a fetus who could be thrown out with yesterday’s trash, but now she’s a human being.”

    The law should treat every person the same. That includes a person who is one day old, and a person who is one day from being born. You apparently don’t think that persons who are one day away from birth are deserving of any consideration under the law. That’s what’s really creepy.

  25. I Publius,

    You’re in favor of creating new laws on the books that are selectively enforced. In fact, you actively mock people who propose that the laws be made more specific. You’re arguing that we should give the government more power than it needs and insisting that we place our trust in the bureaucracy. I know the word for what you are, but it sure as shit ain’t “conservative.”

    Also, it’d be wonderful if you’d stop with the bullshit cutesy backhanded complements (“C’mon… you know this. You’re a smart guy.”) and your ridiculous straw men (“You apparently don’t think that persons who are one day away from birth are deserving of any consideration under the law”). These tactics serve only to stroke your ego, but shed no light on the situation. I assume this isn’t your intention.

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