Op-Ed Says Tenn. Woman's Self-Inducted Abortion Attempt Signals Return to Pre-Roe Environment

December 17, 2015 — In an opinion piece for The Guardian, columnist Jessica Valenti writes about how the recent indictment of a Tennessee woman who attempted to self-induce an abortion by using a coat hanger signals a return to "the desperation and horror of a time" before Roe v. Wade, "when, lacking all other options, women took matters into their own hands."

Valenti explains that the woman, Anna Yocca, allegedly attempted to self-induce an abortion using a coat hanger at 24 weeks of pregnancy. After experiencing excessive blood loss, Yucca was taken to a hospital. Valenti writes, "In a just world, this news would provoke empathetic outrage -- Yocca's desperation and inability to obtain a safe abortion prove that we are shamefully failing women." However, "[w]e live in a world, in a country, where women who want to end their pregnancies are considered contemptible," Valenti continues, explaining that Yocca "was arrested for first-degree attempted murder."

Valenti cites a recent study that found "that over 100,000 women" in Texas, which has onerous abortion restrictions, "have attempted to self-abort." She notes that abortion "restrictions are harsh in Tennessee as well -- in addition to mandates like [mandatory delays], 96% of counties have no abortion provider and there are no providers in the state [who] perform abortions past 16 weeks of pregnancy."

Quoting Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Valenti writes that "this case and others sho[w] that anti-choice rhetoric claiming women will not be punished if Roe is overturned is simply false." Paltrow said, "Enforcement of anti-abortion laws don't just affect doctors, but women themselves." Paltrow pointed to the improvement in maternal and infant health after Roe v. Wade, noting, "We know whether abortion is legal or illegal, accessible or not, women will take the steps they believe are necessary for their lives and health."

Valenti adds, "Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, thousands of women died attempting to end their pregnancies -- most of whom were poor or women of color." She continues, "So we know where this road leads, and we know that when we arrest women like Yocca, it won't make other less likely to self-abort -- it will just make them less likely to seek help when they need it."

According to Valenti, "It's unclear what will happen in Yocca's case." She cites similar lawsuits in other states, noting that "[c]harges against a woman in Georgia who self-aborted were dropped because the state didn't allow for the prosecution of women who try to end their pregnancies, and in 2012 the [9th U.S. Circuit Court] found that an Idaho law that allowed for the arrest of a woman who self-aborted was unconstitutional." However, she also notes that a woman in Indiana, Purvi Patel, "was sentenced to 20 years for what the state says was her illegal abortion."

Valenti writes, "No matter what happens, though, let's not forget that we have been here before. We know what restricting abortion does. We know how scared and desperate a woman needs to be to resort to sticking a household object up her vagina and into her uterus." She concludes, "I would like to write that we can't afford to go back to a time where this was commonplace, but it seems as if we are already there" (Valenti, The Guardian, 12/15).