Thursday, May 27, 2004

Tragedy in Arizona
Today’s Arizona Republic carried a report of an 18-year old woman who abandoned her newborn infant in a neighbor’s back yard last March. She was charged yesterday with second-degree murder. If convicted, she faces a possible prison sentence of 13 to 27 years. Forensic tests indicated that the baby was alive at the time of being abandoned to die.

The report doesn’t say anything about the accused woman’s mental competence; about whether she understood what she was doing. The matter becomes even more tragic when you consider that Arizona law allows a newborn child to be left anonymously at a hospital or fire station. I can’t help but wonder about several questions.

Can we really call an 18-year old a woman? No disrespect intended here. “Young woman”; OK, I can concede that. If the defining element of the transition from “girl” to “woman” is the point of being able to conceive and bear a child, then an 18-year old female is a woman. But somehow, now that I am closer to my twilight years than to my teens (OK, maybe at the mid-point between the two!), I have a hard time seeing the unfortunate mother in this incident as a woman, if that term connotes a level of maturity and ability to function in the world. As I mentioned, the article gives no details about her, except her name, age, and that she was initially picked up for questioning on a unrelated matter. This last suggests that she is in a setting that is less than beneficial for her.

I also can’t help but wonder about whether a woman/young woman in this situation is at all confused by 31 years of legalized abortion on demand. Arizona law prohibits the abortion of a viable fetus – one capable of life outside the womb – except in the case of a medical emergency, in which the life or health of the mother is in question. I had to spend some time looking this up; and, while I’m happily surprised, I have to admit to being surprised: I didn’t realize that, in Arizona, third-trimester abortions are not permitted. I’m sure I’m not wrong in saying that some states permit abortions to be performed even almost up to the time of giving birth. It seems to me that this is probably the generally understood situation with regard to abortion.

It is ironic (at best) that this young woman is being charged for putting an untimely end to the life of her child (with the name of murder); for if she had acted a few months before giving birth, the law would have allowed her to put an untimely end to her child’s life while still in the womb, and there would have been no action by the state – it would all have been perfectly legal. I’m college educated (seminary gave me the third degree); lots of life experience; I’d like to think I’m fairly intelligent – but I can’t find a way to explain how we can kill children before they are born, but not after they are born. If I can’t do it, why should I be surprised if a young woman of 18 years, in what may have been a moment of confusion, has made a tragic, and fatal, mistake?

May 29, 2004 Update
Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, comments on this event. Her column is found here.