Analysis Abortion

Case of Self-Induced Late Abortion Raises Troubling Questions About British Laws

Karen Gardiner

An eight-year jail sentence raises troubling questions about British abortion laws.

Last week a 35-year-old British woman was given an eight-year jail sentence for causing her own abortion one week before full-term.

Sarah Catt, from North Yorkshire, England, had, earlier in 2009, tried to obtain a legal abortion at a clinic but, at 30 weeks, had been told she was too far along. Catt was 39-weeks pregnant when she self-administered Misoprostol, procured over the internet from India, which caused her to miscarry. Catt then claimed the baby was stillborn, but has refused to reveal the location of the body. She pled guilty in July to administering a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. Sentencing her to eight years in prison, the judge, Mr. Justice Jeremy Cooke, said that Catt had made a “deliberate and calculated decision” to end her pregnancy. He added that Catt had robbed the baby of the life it was about to have and said the seriousness of the crime lay between manslaughter and murder.

Evidence presented in court suggested that Catt had a troubled history of pregnancy and childbirth: she had previously given up a child for adoption in 1999; had one legal termination; tried to terminate another pregnancy but missed the legal limit; and concealed another pregnancy from her husband before the child’s birth. Commenting on the case, advocacy group Abortion Rights said:

This is a sad and unusual case and one that highlights the desperation women can feel when faced by an unwanted pregnancy and when they feel their options are closed.

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The upper legal time limit for abortion in this country is 24 weeks in most cases, and while we do not condone anyone operating outside the law, the case underlines how vital it is for women to have access to safe, legal abortion as early as possible in pregnancy.

Sarah Catt is clearly a very troubled individual, with a complex medical history. An eight year jail term in such a case is disproportionate.

Women who find themselves in what seem like impossible circumstances must be treated with understanding and compassion, and offered treatment if appropriate, not threatened with prosecution.

Compassion was lacking in much of the media coverage of the case, however, with many outlets focusing on the leading investigator’s description of her as “cold and calculating and (having) shown no remorse or given an explanation for what she did.” Several news outlets chose to focus on the fact that the pregancy was a result of an extra-maritial affair.

The case raises difficult questions about the legal rights of pregnant women in Great Britain. In his sentencing remarks, the judge said:

There is no mitigation available by reference to the Abortion Act, whatever view one takes of its provisions which are, wrongly, liberally construed in practice so as to make abortion available essentially on demand prior to 24 weeks with the approval of registered medical practitioners.

The judge’s (who has since been revealed to be a member of a Christian charity, which has campaigned for more restrictive abortion laws) comments on the “wrongful” interpretation of the Abortion Act of 1967 highlights the fact that the law does not legally address the rights of pregnant women; it simply allows legal access to abortion under certain circumstances. Essentially British women have access to legal abortion only when two doctors agree that continuing the pregancy would be a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman. That abortion is, in practice, available on demand in Great Britain is through a loophole that some worry may close with the rise of anti-choice rhetoric in the country.

The ruling comes at a time of increasing anxiety for British pro-choice activists. At the end of summer a cabinet reshuffle gave Conservative anti-choice MP Jeremy Hunt the role of Health Minister (in 2008 Hunt voted to reduce the legal time limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 12).

Anti-choice protests, too, which were once rare in Great Britain, have been steadily increasing; the anti-choice group Abort67 was just last week cleared by Brighton Magistrates Court of public order offenses for displaying material that is ‘threatening, abusive or insulting,’ and of directly confronting clients outside a Brighton clinic. Commenting on this verdict,  Abortion Rights said:

This verdict demonstrates that the current law is inadequate to protect women from intimidation by hard-line anti-abortion activists. It will be viewed as a green light for them to continue their aggressive campaign tactics.

The Sarah Catt case underscores how important it remains for women to be able to access abortion services, and to be guaranteed privacy and safety, within the legal time frame.

News Law and Policy

Attorney Wants Mental Evaluation of Tennessee Woman Charged in Self-Induced Abortion Case

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The attorney for Anna Yocca, the Tennessee woman charged with attempted murder for allegedly trying to terminate her pregnancy with a coat hanger, suggested his client has a history of mental illness.

The attorney for Anna Yocca, the Tennessee woman facing an attempted murder charge for trying to terminate her pregnancy with a coat hanger, wants a mental evaluation of his client.

As reported in the Murfreesboro PostRutherford County Public Defender Gerald Melton was appointed to represent Yocca, who had told the court she could not afford an attorney. Melton, in a hearing Tuesday, told Circuit Court Judge Royce Taylor that due to the “serious nature” of Yocca’s case, he would need additional time to review the allegations against Yocca and further prepare her defense.

Melton, as part of that defense, indicated he planned to seek a mental health evaluation of Yocca, claiming his client has a history of documented mental health treatment.

Yocca, 31, is charged with attempted first-degree murder. She’s being held on $200,000 bond.

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Yocca allegedly went to her upstairs bathroom, filled the tub with water, got in and tried to “self-abort” her pregnancy with a coat hanger, according to police reports. Prosecutors claim Yocca grew “alarmed and concerned for her safety” when she saw a great deal of blood in the tub. Her boyfriend took her to St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital’s emergency room.

From there, she was transported to St. Thomas Mid-Town in Nashville, where staff members delivered a 1.5-pound “Baby Yocca,” according to police. The baby survived and will reportedly need extensive medical care.

Yocca was 24 weeks pregnant at the time she attempted to terminate her pregnancy, according to reports.

Judge Taylor scheduled Yocca’s next hearing for February 29, when the court will review the case and hear preliminary hearings such as the request for a mental health evaluation of Yocca.

Roundups Human Rights

The Biggest Justice Movements of 2015

Rewire Staff

If we learned anything in 2015, it was that activists of all ages and backgrounds are up for the challenges that lie ahead.

If we learned anything in 2015, it was that activists of all ages and backgrounds are up for the challenges that lie ahead.

We at Rewire are certain not a day went by this year without a Republican presidential candidate or anti-choice public figure saying something awful about already marginalized groups, a person of color being killed or assaulted by the police, an anti-abortion bill being introduced that was more terrible than the last one (not an easy feat), or a woman being prosecuted for her pregnancy. You could say we’re seeing a half-empty glass. But what gives us hope are the dozens of justice movements happening nationwide to fight back against the anti-choice policies, state-sanctioned violence, wage violations, and so much more.

We salute you, grassroots organizers and pro-choice leaders. Here are just ten of the biggest movements we followed this year.

1. #ShoutYourAbortion

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Writers Lindy West and Amelia Bonow launched a campaign in mid-September to put stories to the statistic that one in three women have had an abortion. #ShoutYourAbortion went viral, drawing more than 150,000 posts on Twitter, even as anti-choice lawmakers sought to defund Planned Parenthood in federal and state legislatures. The women wrote that anti-choice efforts rely “on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about.” By writing about their own abortions, and encouraging others to do the same, they hoped to reframe the national debate. “I have a good heart and having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way,” said Bonow. “Why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?” (Zoe Greenberg)

2. #SayHerName

This year marked an important shift in the messaging of Black Lives Matter, one that sought to center the lives of Black women and girls within the larger movement to end police brutality. Using the #SayHerName hashtag, coined in early 2015 by the African American Policy Forum, activists fought the erasure of Black women and girls from protests and discussions around state violence. The hashtag helped amplify incidents like the police attack on a Black teenager in McKinney, Texas, and the violent assault of a Black schoolgirl by a white deputy officer in Columbia, South Carolina, which made clear that Black girls are as vulnerable to police violence as their male counterparts. Activists mobilized around the killing of Natasha McKenna and the fatal shooting of Mya Hall, among others in 2015, which demonstrated how Black women, too, regularly die at the hands of the law enforcement establishment. #SayHerName bolstered efforts in Oklahoma City to bring justice for the 12 Black women and one teenager who accused former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw of sexual assault, and helped frame ongoing protests against the in-custody death of Sandra Bland this summer. (Kanya D’Almeida)

3. #FightFor15

Throughout 2015, low-wage workers organized strikes and marches across the country in a campaign to win a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. In April, workers in more than 200 cities walked out on their jobs, in what organizers called the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history. The crowds included home-care assistants, Walmart employees, adjunct professors, child-care aides, and McDonald’s cashiers. In November, tens of thousands of workers again took to the streets to demand “$15 and a union.” “There is not a price tag you can put on how this movement has changed the conversation in this country. It is raising wages at the bargaining table. It’s raised wages for 8 million workers,” the international president of the Service Employees International Union told the Guardian. (Zoe Greenberg)

4. #LoveWins

In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages if they were performed in states where marriage equality was legal. What followed were two years of state-by-state battles, with more than a dozen continuing to resist by the time the issue made its way to the Supreme Court. On June 26, 2015, the Roberts Court ruled 5 to 4 in Obergefell v. Hodges that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, legalizing marriage equality throughout the United States and granting same-sex couples and their children access to thousands of rights already enjoyed by opposite-sex ones. Supporters flooded the Court plaza, chanting “Love has won”; online, millions of people took to Twitter to celebrate using the hashtag #LoveWins, which automatically appended a rainbow emoticon. These included President Barack Obama, who wrote, “Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else” in his post, which was retweeted nearly 450,000 times. Ultimately, #LoveWins was one of Twitter’s Top 10 trends of 2015. (Kat Jercich)

5. #IStandWithAhmed

In September, ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed became internationally renowned when he brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers. Instead of being praised as a budding young scientist, the principal pulled Mohamed out of class and local police arrested him for bringing what they described as a “hoax bomb” to campus. A day later, Mohamed’s story went viral, providing a touchstone for a national conversation about racism and Islamophobia. His story ultimately led to 370,000 Twitter posts, including notes of encouragement from President Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, comedian Aziz Ansari, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Thank you for your support! I really didn’t think people would care about a muslim boy,” he tweeted in response to his newfound fame. (Zoe Greenberg)

6. #StandWithPP

Stand with Planned Parenthood was the health-care organization’s response to the inflammatory dialogue surrounding it and its employees after an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress, released deceptively captured and edited videos that allege that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue.

The informative campaign shined a light on the ways in which CMP’s practices were unethical, deceptive, and intentionally inflammatory. The organization asked supporters to use a pink filter with the hashtag #StandWithPP on their social media profile pictures, and on September 29, many hit the streets for Planned Parenthood’s #Pinkout. During #Pinkout, protesters wore pink and took to social media to spread their support for Planned Parenthood and its array of health-care services, including abortion. (Jenn Stanley)

7. America in Transition

Transgender Americans live all over the country—in rural areas, cities, suburbs—and have as differing experiences as cisgender Americans. While media attention and presence for trans and nonbinary Americans did increase in 2015, many activists point out that celebrities, like Caitlyn Jenner, who bring national attention to issues facing gender nonconforming people often have atypical experiences themselves and do not represent the lives of trans people across America. This year, Andre Perez, co-founder of the Transgender Oral History Project, took his documentary series to a new level to create America in Transition.

America in Transition is a web series, interactive multimedia map, and mobile app featuring the stories of the often silenced transgender people across the United States. Currently in development, America in Transition will highlight the stories of trans people of color and others with intersectional identities. Unlike the few trans stories highlighted by the mainstream media, America in Transition “seeks to amplify the stories of people from all walks of life and show how their environments—supportive, rural, educated, religiously fundamental, and more—have shaped who they are,” according to the organization’s website.

America in Transition also has a MyTransStory social media campaign, which asks people to add a purple filter to profile photos and write three words that encapsulate their experiences and identities. (Jenn Stanley)

8. Black Youth Project 100

Social change often starts with young people determined to make the world more manageable for themselves and the generations to come after them. The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), an activist organization of Black 18- to 35-year-olds, has been successfully chipping away at injustice since its founding in Chicago in 2013.

BYP 100 celebrated one victory when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he had asked for Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation for the mishandling of Laquan McDonald’s murder by a police officer.

In November, the group had made headlines for declining a meeting with Mayor Emanuel to discuss the incident, and instead announced it would be “focusing on reaching out to the people who are directly impacted by the occupation of militarized police and community disinvestment.”

“Mayor Emanuel’s decision to fire Supt. Garry McCarthy comes as a result of massive community organizing and direct confrontations between young Black organizers and the Chicago Police Department to expose the ongoing structural abuses of power Black people are subjected to everyday,” reads a press statement from BYP 100.

However, its work on the matter of police violence and systemic discrimination within the Chicago Police Department isn’t done. It is still pushing for the resignations of Mayor Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for their parts in delaying the release of the police camera video that captured Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.

“As young Black people who organize Black communities in Chicago, we are clear that Supt. McCarthy, Mayor Emanuel and State’s Attorney Alvarez represent elements of a system that must not only be reformed, but radically changed,” the statement reads. (Jenn Stanley)

9. College Protests Against Racial Discrimination

Inspired by protests at Yale University, as well as the resignation of Missouri University’s president following a sustained student movement, a hunger strike, and an athletic boycott in November, campuses across the United States erupted this year in a wave of actions calling for an end to institutionalized racism. The hashtag #BlackOnCampus created an online space for students to share experiences of racial profiling and express anger over racist attacks and hate speech at colleges and universities, fueling a nationwide protest movement that quickly garnered the attention of mainstream media. The second week of November alone saw some 22 campuses standing in solidarity with Mizzou and Yale, including groups at Ithaca College, Howard University, Emory University, Brown University, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Twice in the final two months of 2015, a group known as the Black Liberation Collective called for a nationwide #StudentBlackOut, which saw student groups speak out against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and the need for more diverse faculty in colleges and universities. (Kanya D’Almeida)

10. Organizing to Protect the Undocumented

It was a tough year for immigration. Donald Trump’s hate speech against undocumented migrants reached a fever pitch; President Obama’s executive action for the undocumented parents of American citizen children remained in litigation; and the year is ending with GOP presidential candidates blaming immigration for terrorist attacks. But immigrants’ rights organizations have been pushing for more and better. The National Domestic Workers Alliance was instrumental in getting domestic worker bills passed in Connecticut and Oregon this year, protecting thousands of women, many of whom are undocumented. Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation raised awareness for those living at the intersections of being queer and/or trans and undocumented, while fighting for the release of trans women from detention. These grassroots organizations are the reason for Immigration and Customs Enforcement releasing new standards of care for trans detainees, including detaining them according to their gender identity. The UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center continued to push Undocumented and Uninsured, the first study about and by immigrant youth on health-care access. And the #Health4All movement was influential in the creation of Health for All Act, a bill that if passed, will enable undocumented people in California to participate in the Affordable Care Act. (Tina Vasquez)