In the days after three women were rescued from the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro, the media started reporting on the possibility of murder charges being filed against Castro alongside the four counts of kidnapping.
If you are not familiar with the case itself, Castro is accused of not only repeatedly raping the three women he allegedly kidnapped and held as prisoners in his home — Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus — but also repeatedly terminating their pregnancies in a violent manner.
RHReality Check reported details that kidnapping victim Michelle Knight shared with the police:
“Survivor Michelle Knight told police that Castro had impregnated her through rape on at least five occasions, and had starved and beaten her, resulting in the termination of those pregnancies.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty vowed to charge Castro with aggravated murder for each of those alleged forced miscarriages. He said he would consider whether to bring charges that could carry the death penalty.”
While these actions may seem warranted by many who are outraged by not only the kidnappings but also by Castro’s alleged brutal treatment of the women, many people also question the reproductive repercussions this potential prosecution could set off when it comes to pregnancy termination rights for the women of Ohio. It becomes a legal double edged sword.
Before I go on with more facts of the case, I wanted to interject my personal opinion. I am pro-choice. I fully believe women deserve the rights and freedoms to control their body. Whether this is pregnancy, birth control, or plastic surgery. As long as the woman is making their own choices, I support them.
If a man, or any other person takes that choice away from any woman in question, I take big issue with this. Huge issue with it actually. Personally I would love to see the Cuyahoga County prosecutors office make an example of Ariel Castro. But, actions like the possible murder charges against Castro for allegedly causing Knight’s miscarriages have legal costs in the long run.
RHReality Check spelled out the details of Ohio state law:
“Under Ohio law, the penalty for aggravated murder is death or life in prison. As in all death penalty states, capital punishment is reserved for the most heinous murders. Aggravated murder does not carry the death penalty in Ohio unless the government proves that the offense had at least one aggravating factor. The relevant aggravating factor for Castro, the one that could tip his sentence from life in prison to death, would be the fact that he inflicted these unlawful miscarriages in the course of a kidnapping. (Killing in the course of a kidnapping is both a criterion for aggravated murder and an aggravating factor that makes an aggravated murder punishable by death.)”
While it obviously would be up to a jury to decide whether or not Castro is guilty, this discussion raises this issue — can a person be charged with aggravated murder as part of an “unlawful pregnancy” case?
Ohio prosecutors announced that they are considering bringing aggravated murder charges against Ariel Castro for the “unlawful termination” of Knight’s pregnancies. The fact that prosecutors across the country are using the same kind of fetal murder laws as the basis for arresting pregnant women themselves requires us to consider some uncomfortable questions.
With the increasingly extreme anti-abortion mindset spreading across America, prosecutions for the “unlawful termination” of a pregnancy are becoming more of a reality for many American women. But if Ohio prosecutors extend the unlawful termination law to a fetus that resulted from a rape after a kidnapping, and then add an aggravated murder charge on top, there’s no telling how these laws could be used in other circumstances that clearly weren’t contemplated when they were passed.
Ohio prosecutors may be quite well-meaning as they are searching for ways to bring Castro to justice for the crimes he’s allegedly committed against Knight, Berry and DeJesus. While this may bring justice for three women in Ohio, it is the slipperiest of anti-choice slopes.