Women deemed 'responsible' for having miscarriages could spend 30 years in prison under Georgia's new abortion law — but it's often impossible to determine the cause

On May 7, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill that would ban abortion after 5 to 6 weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected.

In addition to calling for the jailing of women who seek abortion after this time period, the bill would allow for women deemed responsible for their own miscarriages to be sentenced for second-degree murder.

The sentence could be anywhere between 10 and 30 years.

In order to determine if a woman is “responsible” for her miscarriage, Georgia prosecutors would be allowed to investigate.Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy have been cited by policy experts as ways a woman could potentially be held responsible for her miscarriage under the bill.

Organisations that advocate for women’s rights are speaking out, and doctors believe that the bill defies science, since it’s impossible to determine the cause of an early miscarriage.

“Legislators are trying to practice medicine without a licence,” gynecologist Dr. Donnica Moore told INSIDER. “Not only is there no such thing as a miscarriage being a woman’s fault, but to apply [this bill] borders on criminally abusive and negligent. It’s an unbelievably slippery slope,” she said.

The bill suggests women could be responsible for losing a pregnancy, but it’s impossible to know what causes any first-trimester miscarriage

Between 10% and 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Despite this, the medical community has been unable to pinpoint exactly what causes miscarriages, especially those that occur during a woman’s first-trimester.

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For this reason, prosecutors attempting to determine if a woman is “responsible” for causing the miscarriage would have no evidence to charge her one way or the other.

Nearly half of early pregnancy losses are due to random occurrences where the embryo receives too many or too few chromosomes, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). This causes the foetus to develop incorrectly and can potentially lead to a miscarriage.

Smoking, caffeine intake, and alcohol intake have been studied as potential miscarriage risk factors, but researchers still can’t make definitive conclusions about the causes of pregnancy loss. Thyroid disease, diabetes, and uterus and cervix problems can also increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage.

Doctors are better able to pinpoint the cause of miscarriages in the second and third trimesters. Illicit drug use, cervical or uterine complications, medical conditions like lupus or diabetes, and trauma like a car crash all have the potential to lead to a miscarriage. At the same time, a person who has these conditions will not necessarily miscarry, so it’s difficult to link one specific factor to miscarriage.

“In the case, medicine just doesn’t have the answers to what is causing [miscarriages] to happen,” Dr. Moore said.

Making miscarriage a punishable offence would put pregnant women in medical danger

“I’m worried that, given this provision, women are going to be reluctant to tell their doctors if they’re heavily bleeding and think they might miscarry, or had a miscarriage already,” Dr. Moore said.

A woman could be bleeding or have other health problems and end up birthing a healthy baby, but if she is afraid to speak about her medical issues out of fear of going to jail, that likelihood decreases.

“I was literally haemorrhaging at six weeks pregnancy and I didn’t have a miscarriage, but if I thought I’d be held criminally liable I might have not gone to the doctor and not have a 25 year old today,” Dr. Moore said.

The miscarriage portion of the bill could also add to the guilt many women who miscarry already feel, according to Dr. Moore. “Women talk about feeling horrible for jogging or having one beer before they realised they were pregnant,” she said.

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