In a new paper for the Guttmacher Policy Review, Andrea Rowan explores how the many new restrictions on abortion access, combined with laws criminalizing women who attempt to self-induce abortions, are leading to disturbing cases of women being prosecuted for attempting to self-induce or even for suffering miscarriages.
Since Roe v. Wade, a number of women have been prosecuted in the United States for self-inducing abortion under a variety of state statutes, ranging from fetal homicide to failure to report an abortion to the coroner. Recently, the issue has gained greater attention because of several well publicized cases in which women were prosecuted—and even imprisoned—for self-inducing an abortion or being suspected of doing so. Despite claims from antiabortion advocates and lawmakers that abortion restrictions are intended to only criminalize providers of abortion care, some prosecutors have exercised their discretion under current state laws to penalize women who end their pregnancies on their own. Moreover, these laws are even being used to pursue women who are merely suspected of having self-induced an abortion, but in fact had suffered miscarriages.
She notes that this pattern can be seen clearly in El Salvador, where abortion is criminalized and dozens of women have been charged with attempting to self-induce an abortion:
This phenomenon has been playing out for some time and most starkly in other countries where abortion is illegal altogether. For instance, El Salvador has been one of the most aggressive countries in terms of accusing, prosecuting and imprisoning women believed to have medically self-induced an abortion. An estimated 129 women in El Salvador were charged with self-inducing an abortion between 2000 and mid-2011, and at least 26 were convicted of homicide and imprisoned; however, some of these women emphatically assert that they did not know they were pregnant or that they miscarried without attempting to self-induce.
Laws criminalizing “fetal homicide” in a number of states have been an important part of the radical anti-choice movement’s attempt to establish fetal “personhood” with the goal of one day outlawing all abortion and even some forms of birth control. Sociologists Jeanne Flavin and Lynn Paltrow have documented hundreds of cases since Roe v. Wade in which pregnant women have been detained under these and other laws that can effectively criminalize pregnancy.