Faced with a growing uproar over their stance on women, Republican politicians are finding new and more insidious ways to attack female reproductive rights. They’ve gotten pretty creative, what with their TRAP laws and personhood amendments, and now Tennessee legislators have discovered a new method: disguise your intentions as something more noble in order to get the law passed, and then use that law as precedent to restrict women’s access to abortion.
I’m talking about HB 3157, a law “that would make it a crime to harm a fetus at any point in a woman’s pregnancy, including before 6 weeks’ pregnancy when a fetus is actually technically called an “embryo.” If a woman who is 4 weeks pregnant is assaulted and harm is caused to her fetus, the perpetrator could conceivably be charged with an additional crime, even if the fetus could not have survived outside of the womb. In the past, criminal charges like this have only been brought if the fetus was at least seven months. State lawmakers admitted that “they did not realize that unborn humans do not reach the fetal stage until the sixth week of development,” which demonstrates just how ignorant the people passing these laws really are. Even after this “realization,” they went ahead and passed the bill with a 28-2 vote.
I’ll admit, I didn’t have my usual immediate negative reaction to this, especially since it “deals only with criminal statutes.” Further punishment for criminals and more protection for pregnant women isn’t a bad thing. But after some more thought, I’ve realized just how clever and sneaky this legislation actually is. It’s a way of setting a precedent for attacks on abortion rights in the future, because it establishes a brand new fetus as an entity capable of sustaining harm and therefore requiring legal protection.
This is a prime example of a slippery slope. If you can charge an assailant with double murder for killing a woman and her undeveloped embryo, what’s to stop lawmakers from extending that to abortion doctors? If you establish that an embryo can be murdered, isn’t that just a backhanded way of making abortion illegal?
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey claimed the law would “battle the culture of death.” Something about the wording there just reeks of the abortion debate, does it not?
Maybe some people will think I am overreacting, but after everything we have seen in the past few months, I don’t think it’s possible for women to be too cautious. Since this bill passed so easily in the House, I have no doubt it will eventually get the governor’s signature. Then we will just have to see just how quickly Republicans take advantage of the wording in order to further strip women of their rights.