New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R) whipped up a PR nightmare last week when she proposed a bill forcing rape survivors to carry pregnancies to term—or face jail time.
Calling abortions “tampering with evidence” of the crime, the bill would have charged rape and incest victims with up to three years in prison just for seeking healthcare, under the guise of supporting reproductive justice. “By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help to protect women across our state,” Brown said Thursday, arguing that it would prevent rapists from forcing victims to get abortions, ignoring that survivors would themselves face felony charges for receiving a legal medical procedure.
Facing immediate outcry, Brown scrambled to delete any sign of the bill (HB 206) from her website, then amended the bill to prohibit prosecution of “the mother of the fetus.” The new draft specifies, “Tampering with evidence shall include a person committing criminal sexual penetration or incest procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion.”
The legal pretense that reduces a fetus to evidence seems to contradict the typical life-at-conception argument that drives anti-choice legislation, yet the outcome–restricting a woman’s autonomy of her own body–is the same. The bill could set a dangerous precedent and inspire legislators in other states to use this new argument to control reproductive health choice.
The bill’s convoluted wording, specifically including rapists and excluding survivors, but not addressing other parties, means that there may still be a risk to anyone who “facilitates” an abortion after an assault–such as a doctor or nurse. Scott Forrester, the Democratic Party of New Mexico’s Executive Director, believes that persecution of abortion providers may have been the bill’s hidden agenda all along. He also doubts the updated version would fully alleviate pressure on survivors, who would still risk sending their doctors to jail by choosing abortion. “That’s a huge burden,” Forrester said, “and if a woman is in this circumstance, another huge burden is the last thing she needs.”