It’s 2019, for crying out loud

Everywhere, there are indications of growing political power for women. But that seems not to interfere with fanatical ideologues, some wielding state power and some wielding religious conviction, who are determined to curb women’s rights.

The New York Times has been running a series of editorials on the erosion of the rights of women: “You might be surprised to learn that in the United States a woman coping with the heartbreak of losing her pregnancy might also find herself facing jail time. Say she got in a car accident in New York or gave birth to a stillborn in Indiana: In such cases, women have been charged with manslaughter. In fact, a fetus need not die for the state to charge a pregnant woman with a crime. Women who fell down the stairs, who ate a poppy seed bagel and failed a drug test or who took legal drugs during pregnancy—drugs prescribed by their doctors—all have been accused of endangering their children.”

Nevada women are protected from some such zealotry in prosecutors, at least until the political winds shift. In the 1990s, Washoe Medical Center took a urine sample from a newborn infant and detected amphetamines and methamphetamines. Knowing they could not charge for abuse of the fetus, prosecutors engaged in a creative use of the state’s child endangerment law by argued that during the moments between the child’s birth and the cutting of the umbilical cord, the mother was endangering the child by feeding him or her meth during those brief seconds. Both a lower court and the Nevada Supreme Court (Sheriff, Washoe County, Nevada vs. Encoe) blocked this scheme, ruling that it exceeded the legislative intent of the endangered child statute, particularly given the fact that the Nevada Legislature had recently considered and rejected a proposed law that would have addressed cases like the Washoe Medical Center incident: “The legislature is an appropriate forum to discuss public policy, as well as the complexity of prenatal drug use, its effect upon an infant, and its criminalization.”

But Nevada is only one state, and numerous jurisdictions have prosecutors who are not so constrained, as the Times notes.

In addition, certain religions continue trying to use state power to impose their doctrines on believers of other faiths and those without faiths. They want laws that represent Catholic, Mormon, Baptist views of abortion to govern citizens in religions that have varying abortion stances that allow the procedure in different ways and times, such as Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Judaism, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, National Association of Evangelicals, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ and United Methodist. Imposing one faith cohort’s tenets on all citizens may happen in Iran, but it should not happen in the United States.

It becomes tiresome for advocates of women’s rights to keep fighting these battles. Yes, there are principles that we do not give up on, but sometimes principles are in conflict. The right of a secular society to treat all believers and non-believers fairly is a principle, too, and it cannot be made to fit into the same lawbooks that would encode the doctrines of some churches against others.