Hawaii Legislature to Consider Bill Based on Debunked ‘Born Alive’ Claims

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Hawaii Legislature to Consider Bill Based on Debunked ‘Born Alive’ Claims

Nina Liss-Schultz

Such legislation, which started gaining popularity among anti-choice advocates a decade ago, is based on the unfounded claim that fetuses regularly survive botched abortions and are then killed by health-care providers.

Hawaii, a state dominated by Democratic legislators, will take up at least one anti-choice bill this session. The legislature will also consider a feticide bill that could pose problems for reproductive rights in the state.

One bill, HB 1444, introduced at the end of January, would give full legal protection to so-called “born alive” infants. Such legislation, which started gaining popularity among anti-choice advocates a decade ago, is based on the unfounded claim that fetuses regularly survive botched abortions and are then killed by health-care providers.

The claim is unsubstantiated by medical evidence and records, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that show no pattern of infants being “born alive” after abortions, let alone being killed by providers.

A second bill, HB 1234, though not explicitly anti-choice, poses potential risks for abortion rights in the state.

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The bill, backed by 15 state representatives, would include in the definition of feticide anyone who causes the death of a fetus. Feticide laws, often called fetal homicide laws, have spread across the country in recent years, with proponents calling them necessary to protect the safety of both a woman and her fetus.

Under these laws, courts can convict a person not only for the death of another person, but also for the death of that person’s fetus, increasing the punishment for harming a pregnant person.

Fetal homicide laws might seem intuitive and reasonable. However, as Rewire has reported, many of these laws do not provide exceptions for abortion or for the pregnant woman herself; in some states, a pregnant person can be prosecuted for causing harm to her own fetus.

Recently an Indiana woman, Purvi Patel, was convicted of feticide and faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison because she went to an emergency room after complications from a miscarriage. And Dallas police officers in September swarmed and investigated a local high school, calling for help in identifying a “suspect” after the remains of a human fetus were found in a bathroom.

As of February 2013, 28 states had enacted fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Unlike some states’ fetal harm laws, the bill being considered in Hawaii explicitly says that feticide charges would not be applied when someone gets an abortion or to “any woman with respect to her unborn child.”

Given these exceptions, the Hawaii bill appears to provide reasonable protections for the pregnant person while protecting her fetus.

Still, the legislation still rests on a belief in fetal “personhood“—that fetuses should be bestowed legal protection independent of the pregnant person, and as such poses a risk to women’s access to abortion and reproductive care in the state.