For years the pro birth movement has waged war on women’s reproductive rights by regulating most abortion clinics out of existence, by issuing deceptive talking points about abortions and mandating doctors to recite them and mandating intrusive but medically unnecessary tests such as the trans-vaginal ultrasound.
They have taken it further with laws that reduce women to birthing vessels subject to criminal prosecution for miscarriages and self-induced abortions. The Guttmacher Institute studied the results of policies that criminalize self-induce abortions and for that matter criminalize the “faulty” birthing vessels who had miscarriages.
As noted by the author, Andrea Rowan, we don’t know if self-induced abortions are increasing - only that they are gaining more attention as the pro-birth movement continues its crusade for the protection of zygotes and fetuses over the well-being of women and children.
It’s important to note that laws targeting women who self-induce abortions also trap woman who miscarry and woman who need addiction support services. That is the context in which women are reduced to birthing vessels while zygotes and fetuses are rendered worthy of the fullest protections of the law. The targets of these “laws” are the usual targets, women living in poverty or facing other challenges.
The results of these dehumanizing and barbaric policies can be summarized by one sentence in Rowan’s study.
Jailing women who self-induce has no societal purpose nor any benefit for women’s health, by contrast, women and society would benefit from improved access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including affordable, legal and supportive abortion care and contraceptive care to prevent future unintended pregnancies.
This is the result of 287 anti-choice laws passed in the past 4 years. These laws were passed mostly by old men who consulted other old men to build layers of restrictions with the long term objective of banning abortion. Of course they told willing believers and skeptics alike, these laws are intended to protect women’s health.
Even if we wish to ignore the history before Roe V. Wade that proves abortion bans don’t ban abortions, we can see the post Roe efforts not only fail to protect women’s health, but also prosecute those who “failed” in being adequate “birthing vessels.”
Bans don’t stop abortions. They just create more health hazards for women because women will self induce if that is their only option – even when that means putting their health and their liberty at risk. Moreover, the effort to criminalize self-induced abortion penalizes women who are suspected of self-inducing when in fact they had miscarriages. But hey, jailing woman is all about protecting our health because old male conservatives say so.
Seriously, we’re living the Handmaid’s Tale, where faulty “birthing vessels” are prosecuted for failing to perform as a birthing vessel.
The origins of this version of “protecting women’s health” occurred in Florida during the 1990’s. A 19-year-old pregnant women shot herself in the abdomen to end her pregnancy. She was turned away from an abortion clinic because she couldn’t afford to pay for the abortion out of pocket. Medicaid wasn’t an option in a state that subscribes to the poor picking themselves up by their bootstraps.
The woman was charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. Eventually, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that established legal precedent precluded prosecution in the death of her fetus.
In 2009, a 17 year old woman in Utah paid a man $150 to beat her to induce an abortion. This teenage was charged with solicitation to commit murder in juvenile court. The charge was dropped when a judge ruled a woman cannot be prosecuted for seeking an abortion. The state legislature responded by amending the criminal code to empower the state to prosecute women who seek to terminate pregnancies beyond medical channels.
The Guttmacher Institute reports 38 states allow prosecutions of persons, including in some cases the pregnant woman, deemed responsible for the unlawful death of a fetus.
The advent of medical abortions with RU-486 made it possible for some women to take matters into their own hands. But, in the name of “protecting women’s health” there are at least half a dozen cases where women were arrested and charged after attempting to self-induce an abortion using illicitly obtained abortifacients.”
The Guttmacher Institute’s study cites a 2004 case involving a woman in South Carolina. She was charged with illegal abortion and failure to report the abortion to the coroner. She was convicted and sentenced to time she already served in jail and a fine.
The study also cites a 2007 case of a Massachusetts woman who was charged with “illegal procurement of miscarriage” She wasn’t charged with murder because the state was unable to assess whether the fetus met the definition of viability at the time of the abortion. In the end, she got probation and she was ordered to get counseling.
Another case involves an Idaho woman who, in 2011 was charged with unlawful abortion. The prosecutor threatened to charge her under the state’s new law that banned abortions after 20 weeks. Charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.
In 2013, a Pennsylvania woman was reported by hospital staff because she ordered abortifacients on line for her daughter. She was charged with “providing abortion without a medical license, dispensing drugs without being a pharmacist, assault and endangering the welfare of a child.” She received a 9-18 month jail sentence.
This year, a Georgia woman was arrested and charged with murder after she gave birth on her way to the hospital, after she took abortifacients that she ordered on line.” Eventually the murder charge was dropped. However, this woman faces a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous drug.
Even if one cannot recognize the barbarity of these prosecutions, these laws “to protect women’s health” have resulted in fishing expeditions to intimidate and prosecute women suspected of self inducing abortions.
One tragic case involves a woman who sought medical attention in Iowa after she fell down the stairs. A hospital worker reported her to law enforcement, claiming the patient said she was trying to induce an abortion. The patient’s whose health the law makers say they were trying to protect, disputed this claim. Still, she was arrested and only released after it was clear that the hospital misdated her pregnancy. In other words, she wasn’t charged because her pregnancy wasn’t far enough along to prosecute her under the state’s fetal homicide law.
In Indiana, a physician reported a woman to authorities after she told the hospital that she miscarried. In the name of protecting her health, the woman was charged with feticide and neglect of a dependent. The prosecution claimed she delivered a life baby after attempting to induce an abortion with drugs she purchased on the internet. Even though the prosecutor didn’t present conclusive evidence that the women obtained or took these drugs, this woman was convicted of both crimes and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Currently, she is appealing the sentence.
We don’t need a study to understand that policies that place a priority on a zygote over women and for that matter, over children are inhumane and cruel. We don’t even need a study to recognize the self-defeating aspects of laws that define zygotes and fetuses as persons and objectify woman as mere “birthing vessels.”
However, this study shows the degree of viciousness involved when women who miscarry are sent to jail based on an accusation, rather than anything resembling proof beyond reasonable doubt. It outlines the history in which pro birth extremists transformed the legal status of women from persons whose lives are worthy of protection under the law to birthing vessels whose lives are secondary to those of the zygote and the fetus.
It proves that women’s health is secondary when women desperate enough to attempt suicide are jailed because of the harm to a fetus – without regard for the fact that a woman who would attempt suicide needs treatment – not jail.
But yes, let’s defund Planned Parenthood in the name of protecting the health of the birthing vessel.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.