Could A Case Of Attempted Coercion Change the Face Of Abortion For Good?

Robin Marty

One Ohio man's attempt to force his girlfriend at gunpoint to abort her pregnancy has the potential to shift the entire legality of the procedure.

Being a pro-choice advocate means exactly that — supporting a women’s right to choose when to have a child and under what conditions.  Incidents of women being coerced, especially through violence or threats of violence to have an abortion are as unacceptable as forcing a woman to carry to term.

But an Ohio lawyer is charging that such a crime is attempted murder.  No, not a crime against the victim of the coercion, but a crime against the fetus.

Via the Columbus Dispatch:

An attempted-murder charge against a man accused of trying to force his girlfriend to have an abortion appears to be the first case of its kind in Franklin County.

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“I am not aware of a previous case that is similar to the facts in this case,” Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said today in an e-mail to The Dispatch.

Dominic L. Holt-Reid, 28, of Kelton Avenue on the Near East Side, will be arraigned on Wednesday on the attempted-murder charge, as well as two counts of kidnapping and one count each of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, carrying a concealed weapon and having a weapon despite a 2007 drug conviction.

Holt-Reid was arrested Oct. 6 after police say he pointed a handgun at Yolanda Burgess, 26, and forced her to drive to an East Side abortion clinic for a scheduled appointment after she told him she didn’t want to go through with the procedure.

Police initially charged him with kidnapping and carrying a concealed weapon. The other charges were added in the six-count indictment returned Friday by a Franklin County grand jury.

“He is charged with attempted murder for the attempt at gunpoint to force her to have an abortion against her will,” O’Brien wrote.

“The (state) murder statute was amended a few years back to prohibit ‘unlawful termination of a pregnancy’ in order to avoid the debate whether an unborn fetus is a ‘person’ under the law.

“I have tried homicides where the murder victim was pregnant, and we were able to charge and convict for two counts, but this case is the first under these kinds of facts.”

Multiple states have allowed murder charges to be presented in the case of accidental or intentional death of a fetus, many of them pertaining to the fetus as a second victim, such as in the case of the murder of Laci Peterson, which inspired changes in existing law.  Fetal homicide has also been used in cases of car accidents, where a woman’s pregnancy is ended due to the reckless conduct of the instigator.

But “attempted murder” is new, and much trickier.  It wanders into a legal fuzzy zone of regulation that hasn’t been seen since the Utah “miscarriage” legislation that attempted to place murder charges on anyone who sought to end a pregnancy “outside of legal indications already set by the state of Utah.”  That law had to be drastically amended to public outcry due to opening up any pregnant woman to the possibility of jail time should she miscarry as a doctor could claim it was caused by her own reckless behavior.  It was also the first law created that would punish a woman, not just an outside entity, should a pregnancy end outside the legal standards of an abortion clinic.

Should Ohio continue to prosecute on a newly carved “attempted murder” charge, once again we could be facing a series of rules and regulations that would create a new legal status for a fetus.  If a partner trying to coerce a woman by force to have an abortion is attempted murder, why wouldn’t a partner trying to just talk a woman into an abortion be attempted murder?  And if a partner trying to talk a woman into an abortion is attempted murder, why wouldn’t a woman having the abortion be charged with murder, or at least an accessory to murder?  Would a woman who even considers having an abortion be attempting murder?

One anti-abortion activist quoted in the article states:

The attempted-murder charge “exposes the schizophrenic nature of abortion law in America,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of the Midwest affiliate of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion group. “A wanted baby is protected by the law, but an unwanted baby is not.”

Yet what could be more schizophrenic than creating a charge that could open up a woman to jail time for thinking she may not want to be pregnant?

But in the end, what is unsettling isn’t just the fact that the “attempted murder” charge creates a level of personhood for the fetus that simply isn’t there, and could provide a precedent that could cause all abortions to be construed as “attempted murder” regardless of the pregnant woman’s desires.  What is most disturbing is that the charges against the boyfriend regarding the fetus are greater than the charges being leveled at him for what he has done to the woman, a real, live victim kidnapped and held by gunpoint.

Once more, the fetus is given a level of protection and human rights that are being denied to the woman actually carrying it, and again, a woman is being told her life is of less value than that of her unborn child.

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