Thank you, Atrios and Democracy for Virginia, for alerting us to the newest twist in the small-government mind.
Virginia legislator John A. Cosgrove (R) of Chesapeake has introduced HB 1677, amending an existing vital records act to include this provision:
When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Existing Virginia law defines "fetal death" to mean "death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, regardless of the duration of pregnancy [italics added]; death is indicated by the fact that after such expulsion or extraction the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles." Code of Virginia, Section 32.1-249.
Nothing in the Virginia Code sections mentioned above nor in HB 1677 differentiates between a miscarriage (referred to medically as a "spontaneous abortion", or spontaneous AB) and an induced abortion, whether elective or therapeutic. The MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia discusses the causes, incidence, and risk factors of spontaneous AB:
The cause of most spontaneous abortions is fetal death due to fetal genetic abnormalities, usually unrelated to the mother. Other possible causes for spontaneous abortion include infection, physical problems the mother may have, hormonal factors, immune responses, and serious systemic diseases of the mother (such as diabetes or thyroid problems).
It is estimated that up to 50% of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among known pregnancies, the rate of spontaneous abortion is approximately 10% and usually occurs between the 7th and 12th weeks of pregnancy.
The risk for spontaneous abortion is higher in women over age 35, in women with systemic diseases such as diabetes or thyroid problems, and women with a history of three or more prior spontaneous abortions.
If Mr. Cosgrove had intended his bill to address a legitimate purpose, he overreached, creating instead an anomaly that is arbitrary, overinclusive, and impossible to comply with. It violates a woman's right to privacy, criminalizes even acts of nature about which a woman may be completely unaware, and transforms an experience that may be an occasion of truly personal sorrow into a prosecutorial nightmare.
If Mr. Cosgrove feels deeply that Virginia has a maternal/fetal health crisis, perhaps he would be better advised to support universal medical care to all women of child-bearing age, so that more women will have access to early prenatal care and the incidence of both induced and spontaneous abortions is reduced.
Better yet, universal health care for all Virginians would potentially reduce maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality by diminishing their underlying causative health risks (untreated diabetes or thyroid problems, for example). Imagine a Virginia with healthy mothers, healthy fathers, and well-nourished, well-loved, well-treated healthy children.
Not lost products of human conception.