Imagine being so desperate to end a pregnancy that you sit in a bathtub, gird yourself, and stick a wire hanger up your vagina and into your uterus. You don’t have anesthesia, but you do it anyway. You start to bleed, badly. After you go to the hospital for help, you don’t get sympathy – you get arrested.
I don’t describe this horrific scenario to remind you of a time when abortion was illegal and how bad it was for women. Because this didn’t happen in the 1950s; it happened last year.
Just a few months before Donald Trump said women who have abortions should be “punished”, a woman in Tennessee was arrested for trying to end her pregnancy with a hanger. And on Tuesday, a week after Trump was elected to be the next president of the United States, this woman was charged by a grand jury with aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage, and attempted criminal abortion.
Jessica González-Rojas, executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said: “These new charges seek to punish her even more severely and are an affront to justice and basic human dignity.
“No woman should fear arrest or jail time because she ends her pregnancy or seeks medical help in this situation.”
This is not an isolated case. Before her conviction was overturned, Purvi Patel in Indiana was sentenced to 20 years in prison for inducing an abortion. Bei Bei Shuai, also in Indiana, was charged with murder after a suicide attempt resulted in her pregnancy ending. So let’s be clear: women, especially women of color, are already being punished for abortion.
This Handmaid’s Tale nightmare will only get worse once Trump takes office. Whatever his personal beliefs on abortion – like everything else, this is a topic he’s flip-flopped on over the years – he has vowed to appoint supreme court justices that will overturn Roe v Wade, leaving the issue up to the states. When questioned about this, he callously remarked that women who live in states where abortion is illegal could just travel to a different state.
Mike Pence, the incoming vice-president, signed one of the most restrictiveabortion laws in the country as governor of Indiana, and has said he wants to see Roe “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs”.
These are not men who are thinking about – or who even understand – the consequences of banning abortion.
The woman in Tennessee, who has already been in jail for nearly a year, is one of countless American women who try to self-abort. I say “countless” because we literally do not know the number of people who attempt their own abortions. We just know that it’s a lot.
One study found that in Texas alone, more than100,000 women had tried to end their own pregnancies. You will not be shocked to find out that abortion is extremely difficult to access in Texas. The same is true in Tennessee, where 96% of counties have no abortion provider.
Not all women induce their own abortion because of a lack of access. Some simply want to forgo seeing a doctor, and would prefer home abortions. Last year, Daniel Grossman, an obstetrician-gynecologist and vice-president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, told me that some women self-induce because they’re “the kind [of person] who like to do herbal treatments or take vitamins for their healthcare in general”.
If reproductive rights were not in such imminent danger, now might have been a good time to start expanding options for women who don’t want clinic care but instead want to end their pregnancies at home. But now it’s hard to imagine that pro-choice organizations will be doing anything other than protecting rights already won.
In fact, women across America are preparing for the worst. The news of Trump’s win sparked an increase in the number of women seeking long-term birth control measures such as IUDs, fearing that their insurance coverage for contraception would soon be a thing of the past.
The defensive crouch right now is a smart strategy. Women and reproductive rights organizations should be doing all they can to steel themselves for the battles to come – not just on a policy level, but in terms of everyday needs. Those of who can afford to do so, for example, might consider buying large quantities of Plan B while it’s still available over the counter – stockpiling the medicine in the event that it becomes inaccessible and other women need it. And if it were not illegal, I might encourage doctors and nurses to start putting aside misoprostol (the drug used in medication abortions) in the event that abortion is banned in their state or others.
Someone who wants an abortion will find a way to get one, no matter what the law is. So let’s make sure they can do that safely, no matter who the president is.
Source: The Guardian