Yes, you read that correctly.
This could be the reality for rape and incest survivors in New Mexico if the newly proposed House Bill 206 is passed.
On Wednesday January 23rd, Republican Representative Cathrynn Brown introduced the bill, which proposes to charge rape victims who end their pregnancies with third-degree felonies for tampering with evidence, a sentence which can carry up to three years of jail time in New Mexico.
Can you imagine? Not only have you just been violated in one of the worst ways possible, but if you choose to end a pregnancy which has resulted from this violation, you could be sent to prison, not to mention the birth abnormalities the child could suffer if a relative committed the rape.
Here’s what the bill says:
“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy the crime.”
Of course, Republicans in the state are just looking out for the well-being of women, right?
Representative Brown didn’t have much to say immediately after introducing the bill, but she did say this:
“New Mexico needs to strengthen its laws to deter sex offenders. By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help protect women across our state.”
Gee, thanks Cathrynn. I don’t know what the women of New Mexico would do without you looking out for them. It’s not like a law like this could ever be used against women. Oh, wait…
No less than thirty-eight states have introduced fetal homicide laws with the intention of using them against third parties such as abusive spouses. In South Carolina only one case has been brought against a man under such a law, while over 300 have been brought against women as of July 2011.
In Alabama, over forty cases have been brought to court under the “chemical endangerment” law, which was intended to protect children living in homes being used to produce methamphetamine, but has been applied to prosecute women who were suspected of “unnatural miscarriages.”
In 2011, a pregnant woman in Indianapolis who tried to kill herself with rat poison was charged with murder and attempted foeticide after she was rushed to hospital where her life was saved, but her baby born a week later died after four days.
In Mississippi, Rennie Gibbs, a young woman of 15, was charged with “depraved heart-murder” after she lost her baby in a stillbirth in 2006 and was later discovered to have a cocaine habit. Clearly she was taking cocaine to get rid of a baby, right? Right?! It’s in no way possible that she had a pre-existing condition that should have qualified her for a drug treatment program rather than a mandatory life sentence for the murder of her child.
Pat Davis ProgressNow New Mexico, a non-profit fighting against the bill, had this to say:
“The bill turns victims of rape and incest into felons and forces them to become incubators of evidence for the state.”
We live in a day and age where there is enough technology and enough forensics that we don’t need an unwanted child carried to term to use as evidence against a rapist. I can’t even begin to think about the psychological damage that such a situation would cause. Rape kits, as uncomfortable as they are, exist for reason. Women who don’t get pregnant still submit evidence against their attackers. What’s more, aborted or miscarried fetuses also carry DNA samples that can be used in court.
So please Representative Brown, tell me again how it is you are protecting women?
Representative Brown issued a follow-up statement on January 24th, saying that she plans on submitting a substitute draft of the bill to ensure that the rapist rather than the victim would be faced with jail time. However, considering the rather ambiguous language littered throughout the original version of the bill (compelling, coercing, and facilitating), I think Representative Brown is going to have to make some major revisions to ensure that this bill cant be misused against women.
“House Bill 206 was never intended to punish or criminalize rape victims,” said Rep. Brown. “Its intent is solely to deter rape and cases of incest. The rapist—not the victim—would be charged with tampering of evidence. I am submitting a substitute draft to make the intent of the legislation abundantly clear.”
What do you think of the proposed HB 206? Is it possible to reword it to help protect women, or is it a lost (and dangerous) cause? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Written by Kelsey Bain