Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Curious Case of the Coroner, the Telltale Sewer, and DNA Testing of Fetal Remains

Rewire (May 16, 2018): The Curious Case of the Coroner, the Telltale Sewer, and DNA Testing of Fetal Remains, Farah Diaz-Tello:

Last week after fetal remains were discovered in the city sewer system, the coroner in Augusta, GA sent tissue samples to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing to try to identify the person who had the miscarriage or abortion.

While this is an alarming turn of events—possibly the first time law enforcement has publicly announced intent to use DNA to look for a person who has had a miscarriage or abortion—it is unsurprising in the context of the documented pattern of police and prosecutors trying to find novel ways of punishing people for losing or ending pregnancies. Most recently, a Virginia woman was charged with “concealing a dead body,” a felony, after disposing of a fetus miscarried at around 30 to 32 weeks gestation. She pleaded guilty but challenged the applicability of the statute to fetal remains; the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled against her, upholding her sentence of five years, with five months to be served behind bars.

Although the coroner claims that he seeks identification for the safety of the person who lost the pregnancy, stating, "I just want to make sure [the person who had the miscarriage] isn't getting an infection or bleeding out," the claim seems suspect given that the DNA test could take weeks.  Although authorities, don't know whether the fetal remains resulted from a miscarriage or abortion, the request for DNA identification is bizarre given that Georgia does not criminalize self-induction of an abortion. The coroner's request might be motivated by the fact that the fetus appeared to be at 20 weeks gestation which is the legal limit for clinics to provide abortion in the state.

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