Desmoines Register: A pregnant Burlington woman said this week she was falsely accused by police of trying to kill her fetus after she confided under duress to hospital emergency workers that she wanted to end her pregnancy.
Christine Taylor, 22, a mother of two, says she believes the personal views of medical workers and police played a part in a decision to accuse her last month of attempted feticide after a Jan. 19 incident in which she fell down the stairs at her home.
Feticide -- the illegal death of a fetus -- is a rare crime that has never been prosecuted in Iowa.
After reviewing facts of the case for three weeks, Des Moines County prosecutors have decided not to formally charge Taylor with a crime.
But Taylor said the damage has already been done: Newspapers across the nation picked up a news account headlined, "Iowa woman accused of trying to kill unborn baby in fall down stairs," after she was arrested and jailed.
"My name is ruined. Just Google it," Taylor said. "Now I won't even be able to get a job."
The news article triggered a debate over a growing fetal rights movement nationally and Taylor's fitness as a mother. Police said in a report she fell intentionally because she did not want any more children with her husband.
Taylor's case raises questions about confidentiality of conversations between pregnant women and health care providers, experts say.
Taylor says no one bothered to get her side of the story until she was contacted by The Des Moines Register.
She said she did not try to intentionally kill her baby.
Police were not even involved, she said, until she admitted privately to medical personnel at Great River Medical Center in West Burlington that she did not want the baby at times and had considered abortion because of hardships with her husband.
Taylor said her husband, who lives in Maryland, left her after she became pregnant with her third child last summer. She said she was despondent after a Jan. 19 telephone conversation with him.
"He was saying some very hurtful things and told me he wants to be free," said Taylor, a Maryland native. "And here I was alone, pregnant with two young kids, with no family around or support. I just thought, 'It's not fair.' ... I was so upset and frantic I almost blacked out, and I tripped and fell."
A national advocate for pregnant women said the response by the hospital and police to Taylor's crisis was bad for women and for babies.
"You want women to be able to talk to their doctors without being accused as a baby killer," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a New York civil and human rights organization.
Transforming some mothers' obviously difficult and painful circumstances into a crime, she said, "would make every pregnant woman in this country vulnerable to criminal prosecution."
The fall apparently has not harmed Taylor's baby, according to both Taylor and police.
But under Iowa law, any person who attempts to intentionally terminate a pregnancy "with the knowledge and voluntary consent of the pregnant person" after the end of the second trimester can be accused of attempted feticide.
Taylor said she was near the end of her second trimester at the time of her fall, but the nurse who treated her at Great River told police Taylor was in the first week of her third trimester, according to a police report.
Assistant Des Moines County Attorney Lisa Taylor said the attempted feticide charge was dropped because Christine Taylor's doctor confirmed she was in her second trimester.
Of the negative publicity that followed, the prosecutor said: "The facts of her life have nothing to do with whether I would be able to meet the elements of the crime. If she has concerns with how the hospital handled the situation, that has nothing to do with the county attorney's office."
Great River officials did not return several phone calls this week seeking comment.
An unusual case
At least 37 states have feticide laws, and the number has increased in recent years because of a growing movement by some conservatives to protect "unborn victims of violence."
Historically, the laws have targeted doctors who perform late-term abortions or people who perpetrate violence against pregnant women.
Bringing a charge of attempted feticide against Taylor would have treaded new legal territory in Iowa, legal experts said.
"I've never seen those facts brought to me in 20 years of prosecuting," said Corwin Ritchie, coordinator of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.
Robert Rigg, who teaches at the Drake University Law School, said the unusual case raises important questions even though Taylor is not being prosecuted. Among them: "How in the heck did the police get a statement made by a patient to a medical person during the course of treatment?" he asked.
Under federal law, health care providers can release limited information to law enforcement, but not if it was given in the course of that person's "treatment related to the propensity to commit this type of violent act."
Disclosure of some information could be a violation of federal rules protecting personal medical information, Rigg said.
In Iowa, state law says doctors and nurses are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, but those complaints are typically first taken to Iowa's Department of Human Services.
The agency investigates complaints only after a baby is born, but would notify police if told about a possible crime involving a fetus, said Roger Munns, a spokesman for the department.
Burlington police said in a report that they would notify DHS about the incident.
In Iowa, most crimes involving child abuse or endangerment apply only to children. But terminating a third-trimester pregnancy has been a felony since 1976.
In 2004, legislators passed a bill that would have extended the crime to all fetuses. It was dubbed "the unborn victims of violence bill."
But the proposal was vetoed by Tom Vilsack, then the governor.
Tough going for mom
Taylor said she decided to move to Iowa last year because she could not support her children on the wages she was making as a certified nursing assistant in Maryland. She found out she was pregnant last summer, after a visit home in which she was trying to transfer her certification and reconcile with her husband.
She said her husband told her during the call that he tried to reunite with her only because of their children.
"I don't know if anybody can imagine the person they love saying that to them," she said. "But I could barely speak. I was hyperventilating and crying."
Taylor said paramedics told her after the fall that her vital signs appeared fine. They warned that the emergency room would likely be busy if she wanted to go there. She said she wanted to go anyway because she was worried about the baby.
According a police report, nurse Tiffany Prickett said Taylor told her in the emergency room she did not want the baby. "She had asked Christine if she just didn't want the kid tonight, and Christine told her that she hadn't wanted the baby all along," the report said.
Later, the nurse brought in a doctor who asked several other questions about whether she intended to end her pregnancy.
Taylor acknowledges she was very emotional at the hospital.
"I never said I didn't want my baby, but I admitted that I had been considering adoption or abortion," she said. "I admit that I said I wasn't sure I wanted to continue the pregnancy. My husband sends me money, but money doesn't make a parent. I don't have anybody else to turn to."
Taylor said the doctor told her he was going to call Taylor's own doctor at a local medical clinic, but she said she doesn't know whether the call was made.
Hours later, however, police entered and began "interrogating" her, she said.
"I asked Christine if she wanted the child she was pregnant with and she stated, 'No, I don't know,' " the officer wrote.
Shortly after she was released from the hospital, two squad cars pulled up behind the taxi she was in on her way home to meet her two girls. She said she spent two days in jail, while her daughters wondered where she was.
"I really didn't think things in my life could get any worse, but they did," she said.
Taylor said DHS gives her state benefits, but has threatened to withdraw them because she doesn't have a job.
On Thursday, she said, her tax refund of $3,200 was stolen out of her subsidized apartment after she left briefly with one of her daughters.
She said she had been planning to use the money to get a car so she could get a job or return to Maryland, where her parents live. "I missed a doctor's appointment recently because I don't even have a dollar to get on the bus," she said.
Taylor said if she really had wanted to end her pregnancy, she knows she could have gone to Planned Parenthood to do so.
"I believe in a woman's right to choose, but for me personally, I just have thought I couldn't sleep at night if I did," she said.
Taylor said she wants to have her baby and move on with her life. But she said she wanted to speak out because she believes she was wrongly accused.
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