Texas officials are challenging the legal rights of an “unborn child” in response to a lawsuit from a prison guard, Salia Issa. Issa, who suffered a stillbirth, attributes the tragedy to the prison’s refusal to allow her medical leave during a pregnancy emergency. The state’s stance seems inconsistent with its prior anti-abortion arguments, insisting that unborn children have legal rights.
Issa was seven months pregnant in 2021 when she experienced intense pains while on duty in Abilene’s state prison. Despite her distress, supervisors allegedly accused her of lying and denied her leave. The policy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice states that guards could face termination if they leave without a replacement. After eventually being relieved, Issa drove herself to a hospital, underwent emergency surgery but tragically had a stillborn baby.
Lawyers defending the state argue that while some statutes recognize unborn children, the Fourteenth Amendment might not. This has sparked criticism from legal experts who see it as Texas attempting to selectively define fetal rights.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower recently recommended allowing parts of the case to move forward, sidestepping the fetal rights debate. She argued that the case could be litigated based on Issa’s due process and equal protection rights, regardless of whether or not her baby is considered a person under the law. The court has yet to make a ruling, but it will be closely watched as similar cases have been filed across the country.
Issa’s story illustrates how some pregnant women are facing a stark choice between protecting their own health or that of their unborn child. The Texas prison guard lawsuit also highlights the need for legal clarity in defining fetal rights so that pregnant women can make informed decisions about their bodies and the safety of their families.
Until then, Issa’s case remains open as a reminder of the importance of affording people — including unborn children — a measure of dignity and respect.
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