Why is self-abortion care a crime?

Susan Yanow and Steph Herold have an important article in RH Reality Check today about the criminalization of women for conducting self-abortions.

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.  Initial news reports indicate that she intentionally caused the miscarriage/abortion of her 24-week fetus.  The woman disposed of the fetus in what was probably the only way she could think of: wrapped in plastic bags and placed in the trash receptacle of her apartment building.

The prosecution of this woman echoes similar cases in Idaho, Massachusetts and South Carolina.  In spite of ever-increasing restrictions, abortion is legal through the second-trimester throughout the United States, although it is inaccessible to many women.  Yet if women safely end their pregnancies without medical supervision, they face criminal penalties.

This is a growing problem, as criminalization of women around abortion has increased in recent years alongside new anti-choice policy efforts. It’s an important question though: why should something which is legal to do in a clinic be illegal to do at home? I think some of it has to do with laws that try and protect the interests of doctors by making it illegal to practice medicine without a license. Usually though, that involves medical procedures on another person, not on ones self.

The other piece of this is simply the increase in efforts to criminalize all abortion, and the impact it has on prosecution of cases like this. In countries where abortion is illegal, women who try to self-induce or use an underground provider often get criminalized if they show up at the hospital with complications. Now we’re starting to see the same problem here. Susan and Steph make the most important point:

We certainly should do everything possible to provide excellent information to women about services and fight to keep abortion care widely available and accessible.  But if a woman decides that the best thing for her to do is to self-induce an abortion, she should have access to the best information available on how to do this safely (ie with medicines, NOT herbs) and know where to go in case of a complication.  Criminalizing her choices does not protect her health. If we believe that women have the right to control their fertility, then we must also trust women with the right to choose the methods that make the most sense for them.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted December 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Miriam!

  2. Posted December 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    why should something which is legal to do in a clinic be illegal to do at home?

    The same point applies to prescription medication, as well as any other medical procedure that carries with it a potential risk. The state feels that it has a vested interest in dissuading people from inflicting harm on themselves.

    I don’t agree with it, but it doesn’t seem like the response is inconsistent. Googling terms related to performing medical procedures on oneself turns up many stories about people who attempt this and then are involuntarily committed or otherwise sanctioned.

    Of course, the real solution here is to make abortion legal and affordable. This story though seems to describe a symptom rather than part of the problem itself.

  3. Posted December 8, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting read
    http://slingshot.tao.ca/displaybi.php?0086015

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