Eerily enough, mere months after electing a man who previously proposed punishing women who had abortions, a Tennesee woman who was jailed in 2014 for performing a self-induced abortion at 24 weeks gestation, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to committing a felony. Anna Yoca specifically pleaded guilty to “procurement of a miscarriage” in exchange for release from jail after being locked up for more than a year.
In 2014, Yoca was originally charged with murder after attempting to perform an abortion on herself with a coat hanger (because yes, it’s 2014 not 1914 but the ability of women in states like Tennessee to access reproductive healthcare remains shitty as ever), only for the murder charge to be replaced with three other felony charges including fetal assault, since doctors managed to save her child after she was rushed to the hospital by her partner. The National Advocates for Pregnant Women assisted Yoca’s lawyers, pointing out the injustice of her indictment on the basis of a law meant to be imposed solely on women who illegally used opioids that negatively impacting their babies despite Yoca never using opioids herself.
The NAPW additionally noted how limited funding for family planning services, as well as limited access to abortion clinics in Tennessee, which is home to just four clinics, none of which are based in Yoca’s Rutherford County, both contributed to Yoca’s inability to control her situation from the start. Additionally, Tennessee bans abortion after 24 weeks, regardless of whether or not the fetus is viable at this point as well as any other urgent situations you could name, in addition to banning medication abortion. This ultimately leaves low-income women far away from the state’s four clinics with dangerously few options.
In this sense, a system to punish women for trying to take control of their bodies with very limited resources is, in fact, already in place, so congratulations Donald Trump! Legal and economic barriers, along with harsh social stigma, the overarching threat of being physically attacked by radical anti-choice extremists, and the rhetoric of politicians that unnecessarily shames women and associates their human right to bodily autonomy with murder and crime continue to attack women decades after Roe v. Wade. This subtle system in place continues the long, dark legacy of self-induced abortions resulting in countless disproportionately poor women of color being killed or maimed as a result of abortion being illegal, and today, as a result of increasingly limited access to reproductive healthcare, which is only going to be worsened by the defunding of Planned Parenthood and influx of state abortion restrictions, and continue to disproportionately hurt marginalized women.
Pregnancy and women’s increasingly limited means to control their bodies appear now more than ever to invite punishment from lawmakers. True of the situations of Yoca and, in 2015, Purvi Patel of Indiana, the law can vindictively be manipulated and removed from context to shame and punish women. And post-election, there’s little cause to expect things to get any better.