Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arresting Girls Who Are Poor and Pregnant

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arresting Girls Who Are Poor and Pregnant

Article excerpt

I suppose you could say that Amanda Smisek got off easy. After all, when Agnes Taylor gave birth out of wedlock she got 12 lashes "in the Publicke Vew of the People." All Amanda got was a suspended sentence and a $10 fine.

Of course Agnes lived in 17th-century Maryland and Amanda in 20th-century Idaho. But under the rule of Gem County prosecutor Douglas Varie, it's getting harder to tell the difference. This rural county has dusted off a 1921 law making sex out of wedlock a crime. They have begun using it as a weapon in the war against teen-age pregnancy.

Amanda was seven months along when a note was brought to her high school classroom in Emmett asking her to go down to the city police station and talk to a detective. At the time, she says, "I thought someone had gotten into trouble."

This was the phrase we once used to describe girls who got pregnant. But of course Amanda had no idea that she, like a half-dozen other unwed teen-age parents-to-be - including her boyfriend - would be found guilty of "fornication."

Now, however, the resurrection of Idaho Code 19-6603 has become a signal of where we are headed in a desperate attempt to do something, anything, about teen-age pregnancy. Back where we started from.

When the laws against fornication were established, sex outside of marriage was considered a crime against community morals. The only difference is that today it's being used to prosecute a crime against community coffers.

Would Amanda and the other teens have been arrested just for "

fornicating"? Of course not. A full 76 percent of females have sex while they are teen-agers. The average American today starts having sex eight years before marriage.

Would Amanda have been arrested if she had chosen to have an abortion? Surely not. Though that choice isn't easy in a state that had nine abortion providers at last count.

Would she have been prosecuted if she had money to pay for her own medical care? Unlikely. According to newspaper reports, Amanda and most of the others were arrested after they applied for state assistance.

If "fornication" were a crime applied evenhandedly, the Gem County Courthouse would be a very busy place in a rather empty town. …

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