Sunday, January 09, 2005

Born Mean. Born Stupid 

Great galloping hordes of Zemblan patriots have sent us links to the bill introduced in the Virginia legislature by delegate John A. Cosgrove, requiring that a "fetal death report" be filed "for each fetal death which occurs in the Commonwealth." (We had originally decided to skip the item because, hey! -- dogs bite men and assholes introduce asshole legislation, and besides, it had already been covered in detail by many of our valued colleagues, among them Generik, Rorshach, Avedon, and a promising up-and-comer, Atrios.) It's a foul, stupid, intrusive piece of legislation in almost every particular, but the provision that seems to have generated the most controversy is this one:
D. When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the woman at or after the delivery or abortion or when inquiry or investigation by a medical examiner is required, the medical examiner shall investigate the cause of fetal death and shall complete and sign the medical certification portion of the fetal death report within 24 hours after being notified of a fetal death.

When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The language above would clearly seem to indicate that all abortions, and all miscarriages (including, as Magpie of Pacific Views points out, those induced by "morning-after" contraception) must be reported to the state. Would-be moms who miscarry would therefore have a full eleven hours and 59 minutes to grieve in private before phoning the local constabulary to establish that they have nothing to hide; and if they don't get around to it? -- sorry, ma'am, we do feel your pain, but that'll be $2500 and up to 12 months in the slammer. (Maura at Democracy for Virginia put together a list of other Class 1 misdemeanors: they include statutory rape, bomb threats [if made by someone under the age of 15], carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and stalking.)

We're guessing that the torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding constituents massed outside Mr. Cosgrove's door have spurred him to introspection, because he seems to have realized, belatedly, that he is in fact every bit as gormless, as birdbrained, as porous a shit-oozing colostomy bag as his millions of newfound critics correctly perceive him to be. Here's the letter of clarification he sent to Maura above:
I am Delegate Cosgrove and I wish to respond to your website and the allegations that have been made by those who have emailed and called my office. The intent of House Bill 1677 is to require the notification of authorities of a delivery of a baby that is dead and the mother has not been attended by a medical professional. This bill was requested by the Chesapeake Police Department in its legislative package due to instances of full term babies who were abandoned shortly after birth. These poor children died horrible deaths. If a coroner could not determine if the child was born alive, the person responsible for abandoning the child could only be charged with is the improper disposal of a human body.

The requirement for the twelve hour notification timeframe comes from the method that a coroner would use to determine if the child had been born alive or dead. After twelve hours, it becomes next to impossible to determine if the child was alive due to decomposition gasses that build up in the body.

My bill in no way intends that a woman who suffers a miscarriage should be charged for not notifying authorities. The bill in no way mentions miscarriages, only deliveries. However, after discussing the bill again with our legislative services lawyers, I have decided to include language that will define the bill to apply only to those babies that are claimed to have been stillborn and that are abandoned as stated above.

I would never inflict the type of emotional torture on a woman who has suffered such a traumatic event as a miscarriage by making her notify authorities of her loss. I would also never impose criminal sanctions on a woman who has gone through this loss. And I am confident that the General Assembly of Virginia would also not pass such a terrible imposition on a woman. My mother experienced several miscarriages and I have other friends who have been devastated by losing their children through miscarriages.

On a final note, your website advocates the use of emailing comments to my office. As for the emails that I have received, I have answered a few and will forward a similar explanation to those who sent them. I always seek to receive emails that express a point of view either in support or in opposition to an issue. The majority of emails I have received from this site, however, have been extremely abusive, condescending, and mean-spirited. That is never the way to communicate with another person and I hope that civil discourse would be your desire as well.

I hope that you will post this explanation on your website and understand the original intent of this bill. If you feel the need to discuss this matter more fully, please do not hesitate to call. Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.
The problem, of course, is the looming gap between Mr. Cosgrove's professed "intent" and the actual language of his bill, which suggests to us that he would be far, far happier in another job, any other job, than drafting legislation. Ema at The Well-Timed Period has written a terrific post dismantling this faux-conciliatory document from all angles, legal, medical, and moral (to cite one obvious point, babies born live and subsequently abandoned are not, in any sense of the term, "fetal deaths" -- and there are already laws on the books to protect them). But if, even after reading Ema, you're still tempted to cut the backpedaling pustule some slack . . .

. . . then by all means check out the legislation he introduced in 2003:
HB 1421 Duty to report childbirth. Provides that any woman who gives birth without the assistance of a health care professional after more than 24 weeks have elapsed since the beginning of her last menstrual period and who, though she is reasonably able to do so, fails to report the birth, whether a live birth or stillbirth, within 12 hours of the event, to the local sheriff, police department or fire department is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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