Women Are Already Being Prosecuted for Having Abortions

This week presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stated that women who have abortions should receive some form of punishment. The Republican Party and conservatives across the nation reacted with surprise and anger and disavowed Trump’s comments, arguing that abortion doctors, and not women who receive abortions, should be punished. This entire conversation misses a very important point—in our country today, women are already being jailed for having abortions.

It’s happening in Georgia:

A 23-year-old Georgia woman is facing a charge of “malice murder” — a crime that is punishable by the death penalty — after allegedly ending her pregnancy by taking abortion-inducing medication that she purchased online.

The case presents just the latest example of a U.S. woman who’s been arrested and criminally charged for taking abortion pills, even though advocates on both sides of the abortion debate typically say that desperate women should not face jail time for attempting to end a pregnancy.

It’s happening in Idaho:

Jennie Linn McCormack was charged last year under an obscure Idaho law for ending her pregnancy with RU-486. She joins an increasing number of women who get the so-called abortion pill off the internet.

It’s happening in Montana:

Authorities in Montana have charged a woman with felony child endangerment for taking illegal drugs even though she was only 12 weeks pregnant when she did so.

Casey Gloria Allen, 21, from the town of Hamilton was charged after a drug test revealed the presence of THC, opiates and benzodiazapines, which is used in anti-anxiety medications.

It’s happening in Pennsylvania:

On Sept. 12th, Jennifer Whalen, a 39-year-old mother of three in the rural town of Washingtonville, Pa., went to jail to begin serving a 9-to-18-month sentence. Whalen’s crime was, in effect, ordering pills online that her older daughter took in the first several weeks of an unplanned pregnancy, when she was 16, to induce a miscarriage.

It’s happening in Indiana:

On Feb. 3, Patel became the first Indiana woman to be convicted of feticide in connection with her own miscarriage. Legal experts say her 20-year sentence for feticide and neglect of a dependent is one of the most severe penalties an American woman has faced for aborting her own pregnancy.

It’s happening in Tennessee:

Anna Yocca, who made national headlines last week for trying to self-induce a miscarriage with a coat hanger and was arrested for attempted murder, pled “not guilty” today to charges of first-degree murder.

It’s happening in Mississippi:

On March 14, 2009, 31 weeks into her pregnancy, Nina Buckhalter gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. She named the child Hayley Jade. Two months later, a grand jury in Lamar County, Mississippi, indicted Buckhalter for manslaughter, claiming that the then-29-year-old woman “did willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, kill Hayley Jade Buckhalter, a human being, by culpable negligence.”

The district attorney argued that methamphetamine detected in Buckhalter’s system caused Hayley Jade’s death.

And again in Mississippi:

Gibbs was just 16 years old when she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, who she named Samiya, back in 2006. Samiya was born premature, and medical records indicate that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. But, since Samiya’s autopsy turned up traces of cocaine, Gibbs was indicted by a grand jury for “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” causing the death.

It’s happening in Louisiana:

A Baton Rouge teenager who gave birth to a stillborn baby on Sept. 18, then told police she had snorted cocaine a few days earlier when the baby’s father broke up with her is wanted by police for feticide.

Baton Rouge police issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for Princess Beachem, 17, 2547 Iberia St., Baton Rouge, on one count of second-degree feticide.

It’s happening in Alabama:

After the stillbirth, Kimbrough’s obstetrician diagnosed “occult cord prolapse” – the umbilical cord had descended through the birth canal ahead of the fetus, cutting off blood flow. Yet the authorities chose to ignore that finding, focusing instead on another detail that emerged after the death – that a urine sample taken from Kimbrough had shown traces of the drug methamphetamine.

. . .

In September 2008, she was charged with the chemical endangerment of a child with bond set at half a million dollars. The indictment said she “did knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally cause or permit a child, Timmy Wayne Kimbrough, to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, to wit: methamphetamine”.

It’s happening in New York:

Last week, a 20-year-old woman in New York City was arrested on charges of “self-induced abortion” and faces first-degree misdemeanor charges.

It’s happening in South Carolina:

A migrant farm worker from Mexico could face two years in prison for performing an abortion on herself last year.

Gabriela Flores, 22, of Pelion, faces charges of illegal abortion and failure to report the abortion to the coroner after using pills to end her pregnancy in her home.

It’s happening in Massachusetts:

An 18-year-old Dominican immigrant charged two months ago with illegally inducing an abortion by taking anti-ulcer pills will not face homicide charges, prosecutors said yesterday.

Prosecutors had been considering the more serious charge after Amber Abreu prematurely delivered a 1-pound girl named Ashley at Lawrence General Hospital on Jan. 6. She died four days later. Abreu, a Lawrence resident, allegedly admitted that she had taken three Cytotec pills before giving birth, an abortion method that is common in some Latin American communities, authorities said.

It’s happening literally hundreds of times across the country. While some of these charges were ultimately dismissed, others of these women have been convicted, and many more have served jail time while awaiting trial. In some cases, jailing these women leaves their children without a mother.

If this is what the landscape looks like in a country where abortion is still legal, only imagine how it will look if abortion is banned. Legal restrictions on abortion have lead an increasing number of women to attempt self-abortions, often by obtaining abortion pills over the internet; these women are criminalized if they’re caught. They’re charged, they’re tried, and—too often—they’re convicted. If abortion were banned, the number of women attempting abortion through these means would increase still further, and that would mean—yes—criminalizing women who have abortions.

How did this happen? Today, thirty-eight states have fetal homicide laws. Abortions performed by doctors in medical settings are exempted from these laws, but self-induced abortions and harm caused to a fetus by drug use or other means are not. Pregnant women who harm their fetus outside of a legal abortion conducted in a medical setting—or who are simply thought to have harmed their fetus—can be (and often are) tried and prosecuted for their actions, whether or not the harm was intentional. But frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised by this—this is the natural outgrowth of the anti-abortion belief that the fetus should be considered a full legal person—a belief held by most pro-life Republican politicians, I might add.

As I watch Republicans trip over themselves disavowing Trump’s comments, I can only shake my head. They need to stop trying so very hard to distance themselves from the results of the very policies they are supporting. The public needs to be aware that these politicians are already jailing women they deem have played a role in a fetal death, whether through abortion pills or through illegal drug use. Trump’s statements were not out of line with Republican policy, as much as Republicans clearly want you think think that they were. Rather, Trump’s statements were in perfect step with the anti-abortion country we already increasingly live in.

It’s horrific that Republican politicians can plead ignorance.

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