This week, Anna Yocca, the 32 year old Tennessee woman who has been in jail a year waiting trial over allegations that she attempted to induce her own abortion, was released after pleading guilty to attempted procurement of a miscarriage.
As part of the plea deal, she was sentenced to one year, and released for time served. The other two crimes for which she was charged, aggravated assault with a weapon and attempted criminal abortion, were dropped.
In September 2015, police allege that Yocca used a coat hanger to attempt an abortion. At the time she was 24 weeks pregnant. Her boyfriend took her to the hospital when she started excessively bleeding, and two weeks later she gave birth. Yocca was originally charged with attempted murder but her lawyer had it dismissed, arguing that Tennessee’s statute does not apply to self-induced abortion and pursuing that charge would be “absurd, illogical and unconstitutional.”
“This plea deal should not be understood as validation of arresting and punishing pregnant women who have or try to have abortions, but rather a frightening example of how the criminal law system can be used to bully and punish pregnant women and mothers—with or without a conviction or valid law,” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Another recent high-profile case of alleged self-induced abortion involves Purvi Patel, the woman who was released from jail in September after her 20 year feticide conviction was overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The court determined that the feticide law was meant to punish third party actors who attack pregnant women, not women who self-induce abortion, providing important legal precedent against the prosecution of women who have abortions, are suspected of having abortions, or miscarry. Patel was the first woman in the country to be convicted of feticide for self-inducing an abortion.
Abortion rights advocates point to Yocca and Patel as examples of the dire straits women will go to when they cannot access safe and legal abortion. Since 2014, Tennessee lawmakers have passed at least five laws restricting abortion access, including a 48-hour waiting period coupled with mandatory state counseling that requires at least two trips to a clinic, insurance coverage restrictions, and a ban on telemedicine for medication abortion.
At least three abortion clinics have closed in the state since 2008, and some women are forced to travel over 100 miles to their nearest clinic. None of the state’s clinics perform abortions after 16 weeks.
Media Resources: Washington Post 1/12/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 11/29/16;