Anti-choice constituents have long held that abortion is murder, but until recently, no one had actually tried to press charges against a woman for the loss of a pregnancy.
Back in April, the state of Indiana charged Purvi Patel with feticide after she suffered a miscarriage in her home. Then, last week in Georgia, Kenlissia Jones was arrested and charged with malice murder and possession of a dangerous drug after allegedly taking Cytotec before also suffering from a miscarriage.
Also known as misoprostol, Cytotec is a drug which can be legally administered at healthcare facilities in combination with mifepristone to induce a medication abortion for women within the first few months of pregnancy. The Atlantic notes that use of misoprostol as an abortifacient likely began in Brazil, though the drug was originally created as an ulcer medication and distributed over-the-counter. As a result of public pressure due to the rise of pregnant Latin American women using the drug to induce abortion, in 1991 the Ministry of Health required that the purchase of misoprostol be accompanied by a prescription.
While the charges against Jones were ultimately dropped, the fact that she was charged to begin with is evidence of a disturbing new trend in the fight against reproductive justice. Patel was also accused of having taken abortion-inducing drugs, though only circumstantial evidence was found in the form of a text to a friend on her cell phone in the weeks prior to her miscarriage. It's also no accident that both Patel and Jones are women of color, a population more likely to suffer from the disadvantages which would inhibit their access to legal abortion.
Just like Indiana, Georgia is a state with severely restricted abortion access. The Guardiannotes that more than 50% of women in Georgia live in a county with no abortion clinic, a statistic gleaned from the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta.
Jones was fortunate in the sense that groups such as the National Advocates for Pregnant Women offered her free legal aid. Attorney Lynn Paltrow said, “We don’t believe there is any law in Georgia that allows for the arrest of a woman for the outcome of her pregnancy.” Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards agreed last Wednesday, saying, “The reason that we’re not prosecuting is because the law provides immunity to mothers in any act that may be committed against their unborn fetus,” though Jones is still facing a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous drug.
If you are wondering what cases in Indiana and Georgia have to do with Texas, the timing of Jones' arrest coincided with a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel decision to uphold HB2, a bill which severely limits abortion access right here in the Lone Star state. This ruling allowed provisions requiring clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards and requiring providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals to go into effect. It did exempt the last open clinic in the state's Rio Grande Valley, but left unchecked, the law could still close all but eight clinics remaining in the state of Texas.
Poor, uninsured Texas women now often have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain a legal abortion within the state, and, for many, that makes it simply unimaginable. Meanwhile, misoprostol is sold over-the-counter in Mexico as an ulcer medication (it’s only available with a prescription in the US) creating the perfect conditions for black-market sales. While Mexican pharmacists can’t provide information about the drug and abortion, there are websites likeWomen on Web, an international collective that provides information about self-induction and sends misoprostol to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The Atlantic notes that according to the World Health Organization, more than 21 million women annually have unsafe abortions worldwide, which account for nearly 13 percent of all maternal deaths. Misoprostol, however, if taken in the correct quantities in a women’s first trimester, is 80-85% effective.
The politics of reproductive justice in America are made even more complicated by the case ofGeorgia's Brittany Cartrett. In April, Cartrett had a miscarriage and her doctor prescribed misoprostol to help her avoid a complicated and invasive surgical procedure to finish the process. Yet, even with a prescription, several pharmacies refused to provide Cartrett with the pills, citing provisions in Georgia law which allow pharmacists to refuse service at their discretion as an act of “conscience.” Mother Jones notes that Georgia is one of six states with such a law on the books, and went on to add that according to the Guttmacher Institute six other states have broad "refusal clauses," that, while they don't specifically mention pharmacists, would likely protect them in the event of legal action. Cartrett told the press she received private messages from women who have had up to five pharmacists refuse their prescriptions for misoprostol.
Clinics are closing in conservative states across the US, and even women who are able to obtain access to the means to end a pregnancy legally have no guarantees they will be able to have their prescriptions filled at a local pharmacy. Such restrictions in access to healthcare make black market misoprostol or back-alley abortions in Mexico seem like viable and necessary options for many disadvantaged women in Texas. According to the Huffington Post, women in El Paso will now have to travel over 500 miles to San Antonio to obtain a legal abortion, or otherwise attempt to travel to nearby New Mexico, assuming an out-of-state procedure would be covered by their insurance plan.
Patel's case is currently in appeal, and while the murder charges against Jones were dropped, the cases of these two women signal dark days ahead for all those concerned about reproductive justice. It seems clear that anti-choice advocates plan to continue in their battle to turn the loss of pregnancy into a crime, making dangerous to be a woman of childbearing age in the United States. Opponents to HB2 in Texas have one final recourse in the Supreme Court, but if the bill is upheld, it could have drastic consequences for the status of Roe v. Wade in the US. Only time will tell where the battle for the right to women's reproductive choice will lead, but as it now stands, things don't look good.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 06/21/2015.