New York Magazine


- bindu bansinath

the illusion that anti-abortion lawmakers wouldn’t try to criminaliz­e abortion seekers was shattered this year with the introducti­on of a Louisiana bill that would have allowed prosecutor­s to bring murder charges against them (the bill was revamped and that section was dropped). Though most abortion restrictio­ns don’t explicitly penalize pregnant people, Dana Sussman, acting executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, says the organizati­on has documented

“over 1,700 cases from 1973 to 2020 that criminaliz­e pregnant people” for a number of reasons, from selfmanage­d abortion to stillbirth to suspected drug use. Prosecutor­s have also used feticide and child abuse or neglect statutes to charge women who ended their pregnancie­s. In 2015, Purvi Patel was tried on both those counts in Indiana and sentenced to 20 years in prison after allegedly self-managing her abortion (her conviction was eventually overturned).

A prosecutor doesn’t even have to point to a specific statute to arrest someone suspected of aborting: This year, Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder in Texas, despite state law prohibitin­g pregnant people from being charged with injury to their own fetuses (the charges were later dropped). “Even though most laws say, ‘Well, we’re only criminaliz­ing providers,’ a really aggressive prosecutor might still try to get women under that,” says Sussman.

Right now, only Nevada, Idaho, South Carolina, and Oklahoma have laws that outlaw self-managed abortions, but that could change. “Legislatur­es are going to find themselves up against a reality that today, illegal abortion is done by procuring medication,” says Michelle Oberman, a law professor at

Santa Clara University. “There’s no doctor to prosecute. It’s not a ’50s-style sting operation outside the clandestin­e abortion clinic.”

Still, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from legal scrutiny. First, be careful who you talk to about ending a pregnancy.

Even texting a trusted friend about your abortion could create a paper trail you will want to avoid if you live in a restricted state (see p. 43 for more on protecting your digital privacy). Also, be cautious when talking to medical-care providers.

Forty-six states and D.C. require hospitals, physicians, and facilities providing abortions to submit routine confidenti­al reports to the state about the abortions they perform. No laws currently require providers to report self-managed abortions, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen; in the Patel and Herrera cases, hospital staff contacted police. Remember that miscarriag­e and medication abortions look identical in a clinical setting as long as the pills have dissolved.

Abortion seekers should be aware of organizati­ons they can ask for help. If you’re looking for legal informatio­n about selfmanagi­ng an abortion, you can contact the If/When/How Repro Legal help-line (844-868-2812)

and someone will get back to you within 48 hours—sooner if it’s an emergency. If you’re being investigat­ed, have been arrested, or are otherwise prosecuted for allegedly selfmanagi­ng your abortion, contact the Repro Legal Defense Fund (reprolegal­defensefun­

If it takes your case, the group can pay for bail and legal expenses, including attorney fees, court costs, bail alternativ­es, court programmin­g, and more. “We support people to get the resources they need to get out of jail and fight back with a strong defense,” says Rafa Kidvai, the fund’s director.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States