Keli Goff on the New Battle Over Reproductive Rights

Keli Goff

Why the pro-choice movement can’t get bogged down in a fight over laws to protect newborns.

The reproductive rights debate has taken a startling turn over the past few years. Somehow abortion stopped being the preeminent issue, and was instead replaced by heated debates over birth control, insurance and a craft store called Hobby Lobby. But now the debate is preparing to enter a new phase, spurred by controversial new laws regulating what women can do while pregnant, and the impending legal battles could end up determining whether the pro-choice movement maintains any momentum or credibility in upcoming election cycles.

Days ago, a woman named Mallory Loyola was arrested and charged under a new Tennessee law that criminalizes drug use by pregnant women that’s harmed their newborns. According to text of the bill, the law allows “a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug.”

The law makes allowances for pregnant women with substance abuse problems who seek treatment before giving birth to avoid jail time. Still, Loyola’s arrest has inspired anger from some women’s rights advocates, and a stern denouncement from National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which has offered to help with Loyola’s defense.

Of course defending a pregnant woman’s right to abuse drugs seems to fly in the face of medical knowledge and common sense. But for an increasing number of Americans, it’s also likely to inspire some soul searching on what the words “right to choose” really mean.

Consider this: If a woman chooses to carry a pregnancy to term, and her partner assaults her to intentionally cause a miscarriage, he could face charges. Most of us would applaud that.

But what if a woman chooses to carry a pregnancy to term and chooses to abuse substances in the third trimester, which then results in harm to her fetus? Some of the people who would applaud a man’s arrest in the former scenario would decry the woman’s arrest in the latter.

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Source: The Daily Beast | Keli Goff

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