Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fetuses as victims of violence

I didn't used to think much of Antonia Zerbisias. She started out as the Toronto Star's television reviewer. I'm not usually a television fan, so much of her work was uninteresting to me. And frankly, I thought of her as a bit of a lightweight. Then she started writing about weight loss, and women's relationships with their bodies. She was still relegated to what might be considered "fluffy" topics, but her analysis was good and often insightful. Now she's doing some serious opinion writing: Killings reopen debate on rights of fetuses. It's still, for some odd reason, in the Living section (if it were Rosie DiManno it would be in Opinion). The Star has been missing a strong feminist voice since the departure of Michele Landsberg (a product of her era, that is, great on everything except transgender issues). I hope they continue to give Zerbisias more weighty assignments.

Yesterday's topic was proposed legislation in Canada to make the killing of a fetus during a violent attack on a woman a separate crime. Zerbisias gets it right:
To me it's clear: When a pregnant woman is killed by her partner, that's murder. Isn't that enough to lock up a killer for life? No separate charges should be laid. Our uteruses are not public property.
As someone who is currently 7 months pregnant, the same gestation as Aysun Sesen, the woman whose murder triggered this debate, you might expect my feelings about this issue to be more complex. They're not. If I were to be violently attacked and my fetus killed, that would be assault. On me. If I were to be killed, along with my fetus, that would be murder. One murder, of me. This creature may be keeping me up at night by increasing my appetite, it may be kicking me hard and hiccuping at all hours, but neither on an emotional nor a rational level do I consider my seventh-month-gestation fetus a separate person. It feels like a part of me, though a rather strange and uncontrollable part.

Another argument for providing a separate penalty for the "murder" of a fetus is that pregnant women are exceptionally vulnerable. While it's true that domestic violence tends to be initiated or increased during a woman's pregnancy, and that homicide is the number one killer of pregnant women, I'm not sure what the effect of extra criminal penalties are. That is, a woman is valuable, and doesn't deserve to be battered, whether she is pregnant or not. I don't deserve to be hit, now, at seven months pregnant, but I don't see how it's any worse than if I were hit a year ago, or a few months from now. Much more effective would be the consistent enforcement of existing domestic violence laws, more resources to help victims of domestic violence, etc.

Creating a special class of pregnant victims won't help anybody. Madonna=protected, whore=deserves to be beaten? And it comes from the same place that led my labmate to tell me today that I can't move furniture into my new office (with windows!). I'm in a "delicate condition." So delicate, I'm worth more than other women?


Celeste said...

I really see any kind of legislation to make a pregnancy murder = 2 lives lost, just a way to help turn back abortion rights.

It's tragic any time a person is murdered, even more so if it's by someone she knows, and unfathomably horrible if she's pregnant with the child of the murderer. I hate the idea of a family's horrific nightmare being USED for political purposes that quite possibly the murder victim would not have supported.

Myrilla said...

Thanks for writing this.