Of all the court cases the press have pored over recently, none have fascinated me more than that of John Welden, who recently started a 14-year prison sentence for drugging his girlfriend into a miscarriage. If memory serves me well, I first heard about the case last spring, when Welden first entered the dock on a charge of no less than murder.
According to the Mail (emphasis mine):
[Remee Jo Lee] was six or seven weeks pregnant when she miscarried.
Welden pleaded guilty in September to tampering with a consumer product and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He had faced a possible life sentence if convicted of his original charge, killing an unborn child.
Welden admitted in a plea agreement that he forged the signature of his father, who is esteemed Tampa-area fertility expert Dr. Stephen Weldon.
Welden’s father had no role in the heinous crime, but was in the courtroom in the weeks preceding sentencing as prosecutors sought to prove that the single dose of Cytotec had caused Lee’s miscarriage.
Prosecutors succeeded after expert witnesses for the state testified that any amount of the drug also known as misoprostol could cause miscarriage.
Now, with the announcement of a verdict, these gears in my head set themselves turning once more. While the thoughts generated don’t apply to all particulars in this trial, I think them worth at least a few paragraphs contemplation.
The first thing that hit me in the face about this case was the initial charge levelled against him: where the flying fuck did the whole murder thing spring from? After all, the alleged ‘victim’ amounted to little more than a cell clump, baking in the brine of Lee’s uterine oven prior to its expunction: a procedure she could legally opted for up to 21 weeks later. What gives?
Daily Caller reporter Caroline May gives more of an insight into things; according to her (emphasis again mine), “Welden accepted a plea deal last year to avoid a possible life sentence if convicted of murder under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, instead pleading to product tampering and mail fraud”. Under this frankly puzzling piece of legislation, an involuntarily terminated embryo assumes a posthumous personhood for the purposes of prosecution, a personhood otherwise denied it by the inclusion of Roe vs Wade on the same law tablets.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-212) is a United States law which recognizes a child in utero as a legal victim, if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of over 60 listed federal crimes of violence. The law defines "child in utero" as "a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb"
Because of principles of federalism embodied in the United States Constitution, Federal criminal law does not apply to crimes prosecuted by the individual states. However, 38 states also recognize the fetus or "unborn child" as a crime victim, at least for purposes of homicide or feticide.
The legislation was both hailed and vilified by various legal observers who interpreted the measure as a step toward granting legal personhood to human fetuses, even though the bill explicitly contained a provision excepting abortion, stating that the bill would not "be construed to permit the prosecution" "of any person for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf", "of any person for any medical treatment of the pregnant woman or her unborn child" or "of any woman with respect to her unborn child."
This effective compromise between the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” positions results in a Frankenstein gestalt of legalistic white-knighting, under which the legally protected “personhood” of a certain demographic lies at the mercy of a woman’s whim. In other words, that fledgling womb growth has rights/no rights, dammit…unless m’lady says otherwise, of course! It reminds of those soldiers in the “pro-life” brigade who make an exception in their otherwise strident position for rape, placing female feelings above “the sanctity of life” and the decrees they profess to observe.
Not that those of a “pro-choice” persuasion uphold higher standards of consistency. Whilst cheerfully championing the “right to choose” of the womb-bearer, they sing a different song in regard to that of the sperm-donor, who is required to donate more than his genetic material should Little Miss Incubator choose to carry his tadpole to term. In fact, bringing up Mr Inseminator’s lack of choice over his financial contributions tends to elicit responses along the lines of “Shoulda kept it in his pants!” and “Boo-fucking-hoo!”, flavours of response that would be boo-hooed at by the “choicers” were they levelled against reluctant mums-to-be. Under the ostensible “best interests of the child” (Where have I heard that before?), the female’s legally-protected “right to choose” childbirth imposes a legally-enforced 18-year duty on the male to be a walking wallet, whether or not he consents to the arrangement; all this with special-pleading approval and scant contest from those who claim to champion choice.
To her credit—and Welden’s disgrace—Lee had professed her lack of complicity in this state of affairs:
Federal prosecutors said Welden never wanted Lee to have his baby – even though she was determined to keep the pregnancy and raise the child on her own.
After she lost the fetus in the hospital, she went to police and agreed to have her conversations with Welden recorded.
‘I was hoping that this was some sort of horrible mistake,’ Lee said. ‘He told me what the medication was, and it was Cytotec.’
Authorities released a transcript of a conversation Lee had with Welden.
Welden told Lee that Tara Fillinger, his other girlfriend, had found out about their relationship and was ‘furious’.
Lee says: ‘If you wanted to go be with Tara, that’s fine. Go be with Tara.
‘I woulda had my kid and I woulda been fine with that… woulda told my parents it was someone else’s. I wouldn’t have bothered you for money. I wouldn’t have bothered you at all.’
‘I didn’t want to be that guy,’ Welden replies.
Nevertheless, under a legal system which rigs “reproductive rights” as a white-knighting, rent-seeking, zero-sum game, I can conceive contexts where a slip of Cytotec to the womb wouldn’t be such a contemptible act.
(Thanks to Meat Curtain of Doom for the womb/wallet pic.)