A Tennessee woman has been charged with three felonies for attempting to induce an abortion at 24 weeks of pregnancy. Since December, 32-year-old Anna Yocca has sat in jail, after being arrested for using a coat hanger to try to terminate her pregnancy in September 2015. Her boyfriend rushed her to the hospital when she started experiencing severe blood loss. There, she delivered a live premature baby. He was adopted by another family and, the prosecution says, may never fully recover from the injuries he sustained in the womb.
Yocca was originally charged with attempted murder; that charge was reduced to aggravated assault in February. Now, prosecutors have succeeded in raising the stakes to three felony charges: aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage, and attempted criminal abortion. She will stand trial on Nov. 28.
Yocca’s case offers a terrifying glimpse of what a country without adequate abortion protection and access could look like. As women prepare for the inevitable assault on reproductive rights that President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President–elect Mike Pence have promised to wage, those who oppose abortion rights should consider the life-and-death consequences abortion restrictions impose on women. Purvi Patel, the woman who allegedly self-induced an abortion and was charged with “feticide” in Pence’s Indiana, is another recent example of how women in desperate circumstances will risk personal injury and imprisonment to exercise their right to control of their bodies. If an appeals court hadn’t reversed Patel’s conviction earlier this year, she’d be spending the next two decades in prison.
Cases like these expose the hypocrisy of Republicans who gave full-throated disavowals of Trump’s suggestion that women be punished for getting abortions: Punishing women is the means and the end of restrictive abortion laws. Women are already penalized and shamed for seeking abortions in America. They’re blocked from abortion access by paternalistic state-mandated waiting periods, parental consent laws, limits on when a pregnancy can be terminated, rules that require doctors to lie about the risks of abortion, and pointless regulations that cause clinics to close. The Hyde amendment blocks women on Medicaid from abortion coverage in states that don’t use their own funds, turning poor women into political bargaining chips and imposing a punitive financial barrier on their rights to reproductive freedom.
We don’t know the precise circumstances or personal constraints that led to Yocca’s horrifying ordeal. But it’s no secret that Tennessee makes it particularly difficult to obtain abortion care. Per the Tennessean, there are just seven abortion clinics in the state, none of which perform abortions after 16 weeks of gestation. The Guttmacher Institute reports that, in 2011, 96 percent of Tennessee counties—home to 63 percent of the state’s women—had no abortion clinic, meaning some women would have to travel more than 100 miles to find one. Patients in Tennessee must get state-ordered in-person counseling from the abortion provider, wait 48 hours, then come back for the procedure. Using telemedicine for medication abortion, a vital resource for poor and rural women who can’t swing two trips to a clinic two days apart, is illegal in Tennessee, making it harder for women to access an increasingly popular option for an early abortion.
It’s been proven that, all around the world, improved access to modern contraception lowers abortion rates, but placing restrictions on abortion access does not. Women still get abortions when the procedure is restricted or banned; they’re just more likely to do it themselves, sometimes risking injury or death. In the U.S., internet searches for home abortion methods increase in places with tightening abortion restrictions. When right-wing politicians advocate for draconian anti-abortion laws, they’re rooting for a country where Yocca’s experience is the rule, not the exception.