Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Laws of Intended Consequence

Kevin Drum reports a sick case resulting from the intersection of two draconian laws passed in Texas. The first mandates that abortions after 16 weeks only be performed in hospitals or ambulatory surgery centers. Since very few Texas hospitals (and no surgery centers) actually perform abortions, this has the effect of severely limiting a woman's right to abortion. The second law is a Fetal Murder that makes anybody (except the mother or a legal abortion clinic) that kills a fetus liable for murder charges.

So what happened? 17 year old and 4 months pregnant Erica Basoria tried to induce a miscarriage when she couldn't find any place to have an abortion. When that failed, she convinced her boyfriend, Gerard Flores, to jump on her stomach to induce a miscarriage. A week later, she had a miscarriage.

And one year later, a Texas jury has sentenced Mr. Flores to life in prison.

I wish I could say that this was an unintended consequence of a badly written law. But I don't think it is. The laws against abortion are not written to protect or inform women. They are meant to provide the maximum amount of obstacles and potential for punishment allowable after Roe v. Wade. Cases like this don't cause the Christian Right to pause in reflection. They give them reason for celebration. And the more scared teenagers they can throw into prison, the happier they are. As the New York Times put it, "[The Prosecutor] Bauereiss told jurors he was focused on Flores. He couldn't help that Basoria was outside the reach of the law." In other words, if he could have, he would have gone after her too.

I'm not saying this was the ideal decision by the two teenagers. In an ideal world, a pregnant teenager would be able to have a baby without it being an economic death sentence, secure in the knowledge that society would band together and make sure that she and her child would have a real future. That, to me, is the true definition of pro-life. As was so eloquently put by Alas, a Blog:
I really wish they had been willing or able to go to a doctor and have an abortion done. But abortion - whether it's done by a competent medical professional, or by two stupid and scared teens - is not the same thing as murder, and life in prison for this is disgusting.

Even those less sympathetic than I am still agree.

Meanwhile, U235 raises the interesting question about the family of the girl. In the NYT story, it says that while Ms. Basoria stood by her boyfriend the entire time, her family testified against him and was thrilled to see him in jail. It strikes me that this very well could be precisely the type of family that is most harmed when these sorts of laws are passed--families where the parents actively oppose their daughter's decisions and work at cross-purposes with her in defiance of her mental health.

aTypical Joe thinks this proves we need to go back the legislature. I've sounded that tune before, but cases like this make me even more worried about it. I am not confident we can win battles like this in the Texas legislature. At the same time, by ratifying that they are the proper forum for this debate (as opposed to the courts), we make it less likely that the judicial system will intervene to rectify blatant abuses like this. In that respect, abortion rights could possibly take a giant step backwards, and when the stakes are teenagers facing life sentences in jail, I'm not sure I'm willing to take that gamble.

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