If a woman in Virginia has a miscarriage without a doctor present, they must report it within 24 hours to the police or risk going to jail for a full year. At least, that’s what would have happened if a bill introduced by Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) had become law.
And yet, the Virginia Republican Party wants to make Obenshain into the state’s top prosecutor. This weekend, Virginia Republicans selected Obenshain as their nominee to replace tea party stalwart Ken Cuccinelli (R) as the state’s attorney general.
Under Obenshain’s bill, which was introduced in 2009,
When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion, the mother or someone acting on her behalf shall, within 24 hours, report the fetal death, location of the remains, and identity of the mother to the local or state police or sheriff’s department of the city or county where the fetal death occurred. No one shall remove, destroy, or otherwise dispose of any remains without the express authorization of law-enforcement officials or the medical examiner. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Under Virginia law, a Class 1 misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of “confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500,” so Obenshain’s bill could lead to a woman who decides to take a day to grieve the loss of a pregnancy she’d hoped to carry to term spending a year of her life in jail for that decision.
Even without Obenshain’s bill, Virginia law already treats many miscarriages as potential crimes. Under existing Virginia law, “[w]hen a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother 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 twenty-four hours after being notified of a fetal death.” Obsenshain’s bill, however, would treat many women as if they were criminal suspects at the moment they are confronted with a deep personal tragedy — and imprison them if they would rather deal with that tragedy privately with their family than share the vulnerable moment after a miscarriage with law enforcement.
Jared Walczak, a Deputy Campaign Manager with Obenshain for Attorney General, provided a statement to ThinkProgress explaining his boss’ support for this legislation. The statement is copied below, with an added link to a news story Walczak identified as the “law enforcement issue” prompting the legislation:
At the request of one of his local Commonwealth’s Attorneys, Senator Obenshain carried legislation (SB 962 of 2009) dealing with a specific law enforcement issue. As sometimes happens, the legislation that emerged was far too broad, and would have had ramifications that neither he nor the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office ever intended. Senator Obenshain is strongly against imposing any added burden for women who suffer a miscarriage, and that was never the intent of the legislation. He explored possible amendments to address the bill’s unintended consequences, and met with representatives of both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice in an attempt to identify a solution. Ultimately, however, he was not satisfied that any amendment could sufficiently narrow the scope of the bill to eliminate these unintended consequences, so he had the bill stricken at his own request.
Obenshain’s bill was indeed “stricken at request of patron” as Walczak states.