Undermining Our Rights In Order To Save Them

[Content note: reproductive coercion, miscarriage, intimate partner violence, anti-choice laws.]

This week saw John Andrew Welden plead guilty to deceiving his partner Remee Lee into taking a drug that induced miscarriage. Reportedly, Lee was looking forward to carrying the pregnancy through and having the baby; Welden was opposed to her plans. Under the guise of bringing her amoxicillin for an infection, he instead dosed her with Cytotec, a drug that induced contractions. She began to experience bleeding and was hospitalized as she miscarried.

First and foremost, I am glad for any peace that this may bring Ms. Lee. I wish her healing and closure, and I hope this verdict makes it a little easier for her to go on with her life.

And I am glad that an abusive partner who treated the autonomy, rights, and life of his partner with such callous disregard will receive some punishment.

I am also deeply troubled by the message sent in this case.

Mr. Welden was charged with product tampering (okay) and murder under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. As part of the plea bargain, the murder charge was dropped and a charge of mail fraud added. In return for pleading guilty to the lesser crimes, the plea agreement suggests that "Welden serve 13 years and 8 months, preferably at a low-security federal prison camp, as punishment."

I am well aware that prosecutors often face a terrible burden in getting charges to stick, particularly in cases that may invoke the usual misogynistic tropes against women ("she drove him to it," etc.) As previously stated, any healing or peace this brings to Ms. Lee is a good thing, and getting him behind bars is also a good thing. A mistrial or a verdict of not guilty would compound the tragedy.

But I am disgusted with a system that (in this case) gave justice by affirming a deep disregard for the basic bodily integrity of pregnant people.

Welden was charged with the murder of an "unborn child," not with harming Lee.

This is a man who sent her to hospital, who put her in a position where she might have bled to death. That is an act of violence against an intimate partner.

But the harm to Lee is not recognized in this case; neither the interference with her reproductive choice nor the potentially fatal nature of the attack on her body. Charging him under the federal statute may have been the best decision under the circumstances; this is not a post about nitpicking that decision. We could, optimistically, argue that the law indirectly acknowledges her right to make a choice, but against that must be weighed the next observation:

Had Welden been attempting to force his partner to carry to term against her wishes, state laws would actively abet him.

Florida's various restrictions on abortion set up a variety of barriers relating to cost and geographic access (although thankfully Florida's ban on abortions after 12 weeks was struck down in the courts). Limits on insurance coverage, on public funding, and forced closure of clinics that cannot meet state restrictions, are extremely helpful to abusive partners bent on reproductive coercion. Nagging, threatening, isolating, and otherwise hindering their partners becomes that much easier.

It is extraordinarily dispiriting that the only practical way, apparently, to obtain any justice for Lee was to exercise a law which tacitly affirms that her rights are less important than those of the fetus she carries. If this was the best law to use, then it underlines how fucked our system really is.

Because the message, taken in total, is clear: the state is yawningly indifferent about your right to self-determination, to bodily autonomy, to bodily safety, if you are pregnant. Your right to choice is so heavily weighted against the pregnant person, and so heavily weighted towards the fetus, that is not a choice at all.

(h/t: Liss.)

[Commenting note: This is not a post about federalism. Please stay on topic.]

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