Tag Archives: anti abortion

Medieval Medicine Used Against Pregnant Women Today

from Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes copyright laurie toby edison

Laurie and Debbie say:

No matter how low you believe the anti-abortion zealots can sink, you find a lower bottom. As ProPublica (invaluable as always!) reports, doctors all over America are using the “lung float test” to determine if babies born at home were stillborn or alive at birth.

[Dr. Christopher] Milroy, [a forensic pathologist who teaches at the University of Ottawa], has studied the test and its history and has found references to its use in the 17th century, when witch trials were still occurring. But by the late 1700s, its reliability was questioned by doctors and lawyers.

The analogy to witch trials is both chilling and inescapable: we know that witches were tested by attempting to drown them: if they drowned, they were innocent but dead, if they didn’t drown, they were witches and killed otherwise. That was not a test; it was a mechanism to control and/or eliminate women, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

The test’s reliability has been continuously questioned ever since, and consistently found wanting. Physicians for Human Rights says:

Despite its being deemed for decades by dozens of authoritative pathologists and forensic experts as wholly unreliable and inaccurate, the test is still being used as a part of routine practice. Reflecting the clear consensus among forensic medical experts that the test is highly inaccurate and should not be used — certainly never as the only test when performing a postmortem assessment of a deceased neonate — prosecutors and judges must refrain from relying on these tests as determinative in prosecuting crimes related to conduct in pregnancy.

So the only conclusion is that the people using it care far more about punishing women than about finding the “truth,” and they certainly don’t care about the pain of delivering a baby stillborn at home, or the pain of delivering a baby who takes two breaths before it dies.

Of course, the test — which should never be applied at all, and certainly not in legal cases — is not applied equitably.

Yveka Pierre, senior litigation counsel with the reproductive justice nonprofit If/When/How, said the people who are prosecuted for their pregnancy outcomes are typically from marginalized communities. They’re Black, like [Latice] Fisher; or they’re brown, like Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman who was sent to prison for feticide after self-inducing an abortion, a charge that was later vacated; or they face financial hurdles, like Akers.

“Some losses are tragedies, depending on your identity, and some losses are crimes, depending on your identity.” Pierre said. “That is not how we say the law should work.”

Fisher’s story is in the ProPublica article. She was convicted of second-degree murder, and served only a short part of her term before a coalition of attorneys and abortion advocates came to her defense, got her out of jail, and convinced the Mississippi district attorney to vacate the original grand jury. A second grand jury failed to indict her. The “positive” outcome here is insufficient: she should never have been charged or convicted in the first place, and it shouldn’t take an army of activists to change her story.

No agency currently tracks how often the lung float test is used in criminal cases. But the 11 cases ProPublica identified are likely an undercount because some cases weren’t covered in news reports, and plea deals and acquittals often create less of a public record.

This story–and this test–represent only a tiny margin of the ways the system attacks women, especially women of color. At the same time, this is simultaneously such an unconscionable approach to stillbirth, and so viscerally intense, that separating it out for examination feels right. And if even 11, or even 5, women are spared criminal charges and potential jail time because this test is eliminated from use, that counts.


Debbie has deleted her Twitter account. Follow her on Mastodon.

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Doctors … and the State.. Getting Up in Our Business

Debbie says:

No sooner did we put up Sunday’s blog post about “virgins” being refused transvaginal ultrasounds for unscientific reasons than I came across two other related stories about inappropriate medical decision-making. Since the stories are clearly related, Laurie and I thought we’d share the other two.

Colorado is one of a handful of states with robust abortion coverage statewide, but that isn’t keeping at least two of its Catholic hospitals from taking other measures to control women’s reproductive capacities. Jennifer Brown, writing for the Colorado Sun has the story of Mercy Hospital, part of a hospital chain operated by Centura, which will now only permit a woman to get her tubes tied during a C-section if she has cancer.

“This is a very small number of women, and what an arbitrary exception,” [Dr. ] Kimberly Priebe said.

“What about women with hypertension, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, uterine abnormalities, and the many other risk factors that can make pregnancy deadly? It seems the Catholic church does not want a woman dying of cancer but during pregnancy is OK?”

Priebe is an OB-GYN in Durango, a small city where Mercy is the only hospital, so there are few alternatives for women who want their tubes tied during C-section surgery–a quick, easy and inexpensive alternative to a separate surgery.

Side note:  I once worked with a woman who was pregnant with twins. When she told her doctor she wanted her tubes tied, he tried to bully her with “What if one of them doesn’t survive?” She fiercely answered “Tie those tubes even if they’re both dead!” I’ve never forgotten her.

At any rate, this is a completely blatant attempt by a Catholic hospital chain to take over what should be a woman’s choice, and it has the absolute opposite of medical justification. Medically, we have Dr. Priebe’s partial list of other reasons above. And, as Brown notes, St. Anthony Summit Hospital, also in the Centura chain, and the only hospital in all of Summit County, is taking the same position.


In Florida, where books are too dangerous for school classrooms, apparently high-school girls’ menstrual periods are about to be fodder for school records. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated for female athletes to discuss their menstrual periods with their pediatricians, because period abnormalities could be a sign of “low energy availability, pregnancy, or other gynecologic or medical conditions.” These discussions are, as the form above shows, optional. But Florida is threatening to make the mandatory, and have the records be kept at the school, not the doctor’s office.

Christopher O’Donnell, writing for the Tampa Bay <I>Times</i> points out that the proposed change:

has raised concerns about invasion of students’ privacy. It’s also raised questions about whether the information could be used in cases against women and girls charged with violating Florida’s new 15-week abortion law. Social media buzz has also suggested the move is intended to prevent transgender students from participating in high school sports. Florida passed a law in 2021 banning transgender female students from competing in women’s and girls’ sports.

So when medical information is legitimately useful (but not required), the state can make it required — and deeply threatening, not just to pregnant students and trans students, but to anyone who has a reason to keep their menstrual history from their school principal.

Put together with the transvaginal ultrasound story linked above, we begin to see a pattern in this week’s news, reflecting the long history of the medical establishment and the government wielding their power to control women’s bodies. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, the MAGA Republicans’ violent and dangerous transphobia, and the anti-LGBT hysteria sweeping the country, these trends bear not only watching, but concerted resistance.


Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Watch this space to follow her on Mastodon.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.