Could Women with IUDs Be Charged with Murder?

Idaho state senator Dan Foreman has introduced a bill that would ban abortion, and clear the way for charging both abortion providers and women who receive abortions with first degree murder. Prominent evangelical pastor Doug Wilson posted this week in hearty approval, but with a word of warning:

But the first thing necessary is careful wording. We need to note that in order for the charge of first degree murder to stick, a prosecutor would have to show intent. In some cases, doing that would be straightforward, but in others, not so much. In the case of an abortifacient drug, for example, like a morning after pill, the legal difficulties would be considerable. The woman would not have to demonstrate that she “didn’t know,” the prosecutor would have to demonstrate that she did. He would have the burden of proof because she is innocent until proven guilty. Didn’t know what? Well, for example, if a woman testified that she didn’t know that an IUD prevented the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall, it would have to be the responsibility of a prosecutor to demonstrate that she was lying. … Given how human life begins, I believe that a bill like this needs to be sophisticated in its anticipation of what would be required in actual trials.

Yes, you read that right. Individuals like Wilson believe (contrary to all evidence) that Plan B (the morning after pill) and IUDs cause abortions. They typically also believe the birth control pill causes abortions.

The problem with Foreman’s legislation, for Wilson, is not that it could involve charging women who have IUDs with first degree murder. That appears to be a-okay for him. The problem, for Wilson, is with making the charge stick in cases where intent to kill (i.e. first degree murder) is difficult to prove—something he says “the language of the bill” should take into account.

Opponents of abortion frame the issue in terms of saving babies from being murdered, but the actual ramifications of their beliefs and proposals are chilling. Consider, for example, that “personhood” bills would require a coroner to investigate every miscarriage and issue death certificates for each; in cases where women were determined to be at fault—if they played any role in their miscarriage, however accidental—they could be tried for involuntary manslaughter. And then there is the issue Wilson’s post brings up—the belief that IUDs, and even the birth control pill itself, cause abortions. Bills like Foreman’s could criminalize women who use them.

I wrote last week that we who are pro-choice need to find ways to take back and reframe the narrative on abortion. This is one way we can do so. Criminalizing abortion has consequences. We need to make sure that, in the public mind, fetal personhood is connected with routine investigations of miscarriages. Heck, not reporting a miscarriage to the authorities could be considered failure to report a death, and miscarrying into a toilet (as is common in the first trimester) could be considered wrongful disposal of human remains. And, as Wilson’s post reminds us, we need to make sure that the public understands that a ban on abortion could lead to the restriction of hormonal birth control.

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