Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Russian Doll Problem Revisited

I'm talking about those dolls which always contain another inside them. I have a set of sixteen at home. These Russian dolls seem a good framework for analyzing some of the consequences the anti-choice decision to view embryos and fetuses as already born children. Consider, for example, the question of the crimes that pregnant women commit against their fetuses:

Jill Morrison is Senior Counsel at the National Women's Law Center and was a speaker at the NAPW conference on the panel "How might you be prosecuted? Let me count ways: Punishing pregnant women based on claims of fetal rights and the war on drugs."

I am the kind of attorney that doesn't actually have clients. I work for the National Women's Law Center on policies that impact people, but it is rare for me to actually meet those people. Well, the Summit of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women brought me face to face with the amazing women who have had their basic constitutional rights snatched from them. Why? Because they were addicted to drugs.

In case you're wondering, being addicted to drugs is not a crime, only the stuff you do is a crime, not who or what you are at a given point in time. So-

Being an addict: not a crime
Possessing drugs with the intent to take them, give them away or sell them: all crimes.

Being an alcoholic: not a crime
Driving while intoxicated: a crime

Despite this fact, all over the country, women are being prosecuted for "crimes" based only on their (1) being pregnant and (2) testing positive for drugs. No one else can be tested and prosecuted just for having drugs in his or her system. To get around what they obviously see as a shortcoming in the law, prosecutors charge pregnant women with "delivery of drugs to a minor" and "child endangerment" even though the laws clearly were not meant to be used in these cases.

These are very sad cases, true. But is treating the women as criminals because they are addicted to something incredibly addictive really the best solution? After all, they are not consciously trying to deliver drugs to a minor, the way a dealer might. They are trying to deliver drugs to their own body.

Here is where the Russian dolls view helps. An anti-choice view sees a pregnant woman as two people, one inside the other, and this means that the kinds of things we usually regard as private matters (what to eat, whether to take a walk or not, when to take a nap and for how long) might suddenly become something that affects not only us but also the person inside us. and suddenly all sorts of other people feel that they have a valid interest in how we behave when we are pregnant. Their interest is naturally mostly in defending the fetus from imagined or real risks. Add to this the recent emphasis on this condition called "pre-conception", a "medical condition" all pre-menopausal women are suffering from (if not pregnant), and a condition which is treated by urging the women's health care providers to remind them to stay healthy for the sake of any future pregnancy. Now what happens if "staying healthy" for the sake of any future pregnancy means avoiding certain jobs or certain sports activities or having wine? What happens if staying "healthy" for the sake of a future potential pregnancy clashes with what the woman needs to stay healthy right now? These questions need to be asked, however angry the responses might be, and the reason is in the next paragraph.

It's almost as if the rights and freedoms of an individual are slowly getting quite different for men and women, isn't it? This is a fundamental shift in (recent) perception, and one which could lead to a world where "privacy" means very little to women, who, after all, may be just one layer of Russian dolls. All those bodies are shared, you know.