Kevin Swanson's bizarre radio comments claiming that women on the pill have "dead babies" lodged inside of them is part of a larger problem of Christian urban legends that get mixed in with reality and used as propaganda against reproductive rights.
Conservative fundamentalist Christian culture has always had a tradition of showing one face to the outside world and one face to each other, and negotiating how much of the latter can inform the former has always been a complex task. It’s only grown more confusing in the age of the internet. On one hand, the internet makes it very easy for people to create their own media bubble, which means conservative Christians can and often do only consume media made with them specifically in mind. On the other hand, the internet means that it’s easier than ever for outsiders to have access to media materials that are intended for Christian right insiders only, which is the bread and butter for websites such as Right Wing Watch.
The result is becoming a problem for the Christian right. Their insular culture encourages ever more bizarre flights of fancy, competitive demonstrations of misogyny, and making up of their own facts—and then all that is transmitted in a way where outsiders can tune in and expose the inner workings of the Christian right to the outside world. Kevin Swanson of Generations Radio is simply the latest person to fall into the trap of speaking to insiders where outsiders can hear. And outsiders are astounded at what Christian right culture looks like on the inside.
I’m beginning to get some evidence from certain doctors and certain scientists that have done research on women’s wombs after they’ve gone through the surgery, and they’ve compared the wombs of women who were on the birth control pill to those who were not on the birth control pill. And they have found that with women who are on the birth control pill, there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the womb. They’re just like dead babies. They’re on the inside of the womb. And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.
As our own Robin Marty noted, this is the sort of thing that doesn’t really need comment to refute. Still, as she points out, this is ignorance of biology on the level of believing women don’t poop or something: “[E]ven if somehow there were tiny mini babies stuck in your uterus, they would come out when you menstruate since THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF MENSTRUATION.” Swanson is married to a bona fide uterus-haver, who, having only had five children, clearly did not spend her entire reproductive life pregnant. Which, in turn, means some kind of menstrual product probably came into his home at some point. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think Swanson isn’t actually ignorant of menstruation and probably not ignorant of the fact that zygotes aren’t actually miniature babies.
These other kinds of urban legends can’t really be considered fiction — they’re more like simple lies. Such stories are not told in the hopes of eliciting delight, but usually in order to create or to foster a sense of aggrieved victimhood and resentment.
Such stories, in other words, are propaganda. They are about sowing division, heightening the antipathy between groups or factions. They are about creating and enforcing and sustaining tribal conflict.
Swanson is clearly doing this: Telling an urban legend of vague “doctors” and “scientists” finding teeny-weeny “dead babies” in the uteruses of women that they’re opening up for some unknown reason. The anti-choice movement basically lives off these urban legends, telling themselves lurid, propagandistic stories about everything from what’s supposedly going on in abortion clinics to a laundry list of claims of all the ills that will befall you if you defy the patriarchal God’s orders and use contraception. This “dead babies” thing is a classic example of this.
Of course, nowadays a lot of these urban legends are being passed off in the mainstream as if they were the same thing as arguments, instead of weird stories that Christian conservatives tell to titillate each other. The “dead babies” weirdness stems from an equally absurd anti-choice urban legend that claims that the birth control pill and emergency contraception work by “killing” fertilized eggs; in reality, they work bysuppressing ovulation. This propagandistic urban legend—or what Fred Clark would call a “simple lie”—is used to make their opposition to female-controlled birth control sound less misogynist than it is. This bit of nonsense has, sadly, become part of the basis for attacks on insurance coverage of contraception, even though it makes about as much sense as arguing that there are teeny-weeny baby skeletons lurking in the uteruses of women who’ve used the birth control pill.
Spread by a mosquito that thrives in tropical climates, the Zika virus is hard to prevent; so hard, in fact, that some governments are asking women not to get pregnant until they have the outbreak under control.
Researchers suspect that a poorly understood virus is linked to an alarming number of babies born with microcephaly in South America. The Zika virus is not new—there have been outbreaks in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands for decades—but the number of cases is quickly growing in a new part of the world. On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be an international public health emergency. Spread by a mosquito that thrives in tropical climates, the virus is hard to prevent; so hard, in fact, that some governments are asking women not to get pregnant until they have the outbreak under control.
The Zika virus is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, which are also known to spread dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Most people infected with the Zika virus won’t ever know they have it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about one in five people infected report symptoms, and those are usually quite mild. The disease often begins with a fever and rash, and can also cause joint pain and conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. The symptoms last from between two days and a week.
What makes this virus scary, however, is the effect it is suspected to have on fetuses when pregnant women become infected. The exact relationship between microcephaly in babies and the Zika virus is not yet understood, but evidence suggests that the current outbreak of the virus in Latin America is related to 4,000 babies born with the condition in Brazil since May 2015.
Appreciate our work?
Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:
Microcephaly is an uncommon condition in which a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. It can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth. In the United States, the condition occurs in approximately 2 in 10,000 live births. Babies born with microcephaly often suffer from other health issues such as seizures, feeding problems, hearing loss, vision problems, developmental delays, and intellectual disabilities, all of which can vary in severity.
The exact causes of microcephaly in most babies are not known: Though it can be genetic, it can also be the result of prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals, drugs, alcohol, or certain infections, such as rubella, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus. The sheer number of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil during the current outbreak of Zika is a strong indicator that the virus is somehow responsible, although the link has not been as evident in other countries where it has spread.
According to the CDC, the Zika infection usually lasts in a patient’s blood for about a week; it does not pose a risk for future pregnancies.
As of now, there is no way to prevent Zika virus other than to avoid the mosquitoes that cause it; a vaccine study in humans may begin this year. For this reason, the CDC is recommending that pregnant individuals consider postponing travel to the regions affected by the virus, and that those planning to become pregnant talk to their doctors before they travel to these areas.
For people who live there already, however, the guidance is very different. Many countries—including Brazil and Colombia—have advised women not to get pregnant until the crisis has passed. Government officials in El Salvador have taken it even further, and asked women to postpone pregnancy until 2018. After thousands of cases of the Zika virus were detected in the El Salvador in the first weeks of the year, Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza announced, “We are recommending that women of childbearing age take the precaution of planning their pregnancies and try to avoid pregnancy this year and next.”
The WHO says it would not advise suspending pregnancies for two years, and public health experts say this is the first time that they’ve ever heard such advice coming from a government body. David Bloom, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the New York Times, “I can tell you that I’ve never read, heard, or encountered a public request like that.”
Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, agreed and explained to the Times that it reminded him of the early days of the HIV epidemic, before there was any way to prevent transmission from mother to child. He said, “There was some sotto voce debate about whether it was morally ethical for a doctor to advise a woman not to get pregnant because of the risk to her child. … But no one said, ‘It’s verboten, don’t do it.’”
The advice to postpone pregnancy is particularly complicated in countries in which contraception is not widely available and abortion is illegal.
Despite the strong influence of religions in the region that resist many forms of contraception, the majority of married women in Latin America use a modern method of birth control. In Brazil, more than three-quarters percent of married women ages 15 through 49 use a modern method of contraception; in Colombia, 73 percent of these women do; and in El Salvador, 68 percent. Still, the WHO believes that there is an unmet need for contraception in this region, especially among adolescents, poorer populations, and unmarried women. It estimates that about 10 percent of women in the region who need contraception do not have access to it.
As Kathy Bougher wrote for Rewire about contraception availability in El Salvador:
[In a] study-in-progress carried out by the feminist organization Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz (Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace, known as ORMUSA), which shared a preliminary draft with Rewire, early findings based on interviews indicate that although local health centers might prescribe contraceptives, centers can go for months at a time without actually having any in stock. Young women say they routinely encounter humiliating treatment or have their requests to purchase contraception denied at public clinics and private pharmacies.
In addition, the study reports, although the country’s policies direct that there be specialized services and personnel trained to serve adolescents and young adults, in reality those services rarely exist. Gang violence and territoriality also impact clients’ ability to physically access clinics, and the reporting of rapes for fear of retribution.
Paula Avila-Guillen of the Center for Reproductive Rights told the Huffington Post, “These recommendations are really empty words. They aren’t going hand in hand with policies to make contraception and emergency contraception available, especially in El Salvador where those things are very inaccessible.”
None of these countries have, thus far, announced plans to make birth control more available. And religious leaders, especially those who have historically been against contraception, have yet to weigh in. El Salvador’s auxiliary bishop, Gregorio Rosa Chávez, suggested last weekend that the bishops were discussing this issue, saying in an interview that he expected Church leaders to take the situation very seriously.
For those already pregnant, there is no cure for microcephaly, even if it is detected in the womb. In Brazil, abortion is permitted only to save a woman’s life; in Colombia, abortions are legal in cases of fetal anomaly but often very difficult to obtain because of physicians’ reluctance to perform them. El Salvador has such strict laws against abortion that women who are suspected of attempting abortion, possibly because they have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, have been jailed for homicide. Women in these countries who find out in the second or third trimester that their fetus has microcephaly may or may not want to terminate the pregnancy; however, they have no choice but to expect to carry to term or seek an illegal abortion. In 2008, there were 32 abortions per 1,000 women in Latin America, 95 percent of which were considered unsafe.
The requests for women to avoid pregnancy is not the only attempt by governments of these nations to prevent Zika’s spread. Brazil is sending 220,000 members of its armed forces into the most heavily hit areas, according to the Guardian, to try to eradicate the Aedes mosquitoes. The soldiers will go house-to-house to distribute leaflets and make suggestions about what people can do to limit the mosquito population, such as emptying all sources of standing water around their homes. They will also provide advice for preventing mosquito bites, such as covering as much as the body as possible with light-colored clothing, closing doors and windows, sleeping under mosquito netting, and using repellent, which is becoming hard to find in the country.
Despite this effort, however, Brazil’s health minister is not optimistic. He noted that his country had already failed in its efforts to eradicate this insect when it was responsible for outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. He told reporters, “The mosquito has been here in Brazil for three decades, and we are badly losing the battle against the mosquito.”
El Salvador’s vice minister of health also promises that asking women to put off pregnancy is not the country’s primary strategy—its officials, too, are trying to get rid of standing water and have asked religious leaders to get congregations to clean up trash in the streets that can also be breeding grounds for insects. But, he says the secondary strategy of pregnancy prevention is necessary because “of the fact that these mosquitoes exist and transmit this disease.”
Many of the issues that these countries are facing are not problems in much of the United States because of geography and resources. The mosquitoes likely to carry the virus are limited to the warmer, more southern parts of the country. And because of the spread of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses, many municipalities are already careful to eliminate pools of standing water; some even spray insecticides. Finally, although the Zika virus is still fairly little-known, it does not appear to be carried by birds, which is one of the things that makes the spread of West Nile so hard to prevent.
Though there have been cases of the Zika virus reported in the contiguous United States, thus far, all seem to have been contracted in another country. Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease, told NPR that she doesn’t expect to see a full-fledged outbreak here.
The CDC and scientists around the world are carefully studying the current outbreaks to learn more about the virus including confirming that it is, indeed, the cause of microcephaly and determining when in pregnancy infection is most risky. Some reports have also suggested that like many other viruses, Zika might be sexually transmitted through the semen of men who have had the illness. This has not been confirmed, and even if it were true, it would undoubtedly account for far fewer cases than those transmitted by mosquitoes. Unfortunately, some research is made harder by the fact that the virus does not infect most lab animals such as mice and rats.
While scientists gather information, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant are left to decide how much they are willing to do to prevent the disease. Some can just avoid the areas of outbreak, but others who do not have the luck of geography are left to decide if they are willing—or able—to avoid pregnancy or childbirth altogether.
The next year promises to be an eventful one on the legal front—though we feel like we say that every December. After all, 2015 brought challenges to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act; a case on whether not hiring an employee because she wears a hijab is employment discrimination; the historic and successful challenge to same-sex marriage bans; the failed challenge to federal subsidies in the Affordable Care Act; and a failed attempt to gut the Fair Housing Act. Meanwhile, 2014 was the year the Roberts Court gave the green light to governments embracing prayer at civic functions; it also struck most abortion clinic buffer zones as unconstitutional in McCullen v. Coakley. And who could forget Hobby Lobby v. Burwell,the case in which the Roberts Court created a constitutional corporate right to object to contraception coverage?
Even so, 2016 is stillshaping up to be an important year for reproductive rights and justice. Some cases on the list to watch—like yet another challenge to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act—we anticipated. Other cases, like the trial in Colorado of Robert Lewis Dear Jr., who is accused of launching a siege at a Planned Parenthood health-care center in Colorado Springs that killed three, injured nine, and terrorized many others, we wish were not here at all. But given the violent rhetoric targeting abortion doctors, providers, and patients that increased over the course of 2015, we can’t say we were surprised to put it there.
The Roberts Court
Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole
Appreciate our work?
Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:
Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole is the Roberts Court’s first substantive dive back into abortion-rights law since Gonzales v. Carhart, which banned so-called partial-birth abortions in 2006. But unlike Gonzales, which focused on the constitutionality of a procedure-specific abortion ban, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole takes on the porous “undue burden” standard of 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision by tackling just how rigorously courts should apply that standard when reviewing abortion restrictions that purport to advance patient health and safety. That makes Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole the Court case with the most potential to affect abortion rights in nearly 25 years.
Little Sisters and the Rest of the Nonprofit Contraception Cases
Another Roberts Court term brings another challenge to some portion of the Affordable Care Act. This time, the Court returns to the ACA’s birth control benefit and the question of whether the government’s process for allowing religiously affiliated nonprofits to opt out from providing health insurance plans that offer contraception is too burdensome under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court consolidated seven cases filed by hospitals, nursing homes, and other kinds of businesses that are religiously run and affiliated; all object to filling out the opt-out form. The cases represent not just a test to the administration’s opt-out provision for the birth control benefit, but the strength of the majority decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which relied on the accommodation process now before the Court to rule that for-profit businesses should have a similar opt-out option available. A ruling that would allow these nonprofits to be exempted from the coverage would have enormous implications, as 10 percent of larger nonprofits have asked the Obama administration for an accommodation to the rule already.
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
The Roberts Court has not been kind to workers’ rights generally, making it harder for employees harassed by supervisors to sue and drastically reducing employees’ abilities to raise class-action lawsuits. This term is no exception with Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that takes on the way public employee unions are funded. Currently, if a union represents a group of workers, that company’s entire workforce, or at least a defined portion of it, pays a fee designed to compensate the union for its bargaining activities. The argument supporting these fees is that the union’s actions benefit the entire workforce—not just union members—and the fee is nominal in the face of the influence of management and corporate owners. But anti-union interests argue those fees violate the First Amendment. Should the Roberts Court agree, the result would severely limit unions’ abilities to raise money for their operations and to effectively bargain on behalf of their members. Women and people of color, who make up the majority of public employee union membership, would feel the most severe effects in this scenario.
Evenwel v. Abbott
Evenwel is the latest in a series of “representation” cases dreamed up by Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation—which was behind Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Blum is also responsible for Fisher v. University of Texas, the case challenging the admissions policy at the University of Texas on the grounds that it discriminates against white students. Evenwel challenges “one person, one vote”; though it concerns the drawing of state senate districts in Texas, the case has potential national implications. Under the 14th Amendment, states are allocated seats in the House of Representatives by “counting the whole number of persons in each state.” States follow this process when determining their own statewide districts, carving up districts based on U.S. Census Bureau population data and irrespective of the total number of registered voters in each. The plaintiffs in Evenwel argue that by counting children, documented and undocumented immigrants, many prisoners, and other non-voters, Texas denies “eligible voters their fundamental right to an equal vote.” If they win, legislative districts would become older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative. Political power would shift from urban areas to rural areas. Our elected officials would be even older and whiter than they already are. In other words, the gains made by the civil rights era in diversifying our elected bodies would be rolled back, the same way Shelby County v. Holder rolled back the voting participation gains made by the the Voting Rights Act.
Fisher v. University of Texas
Race-based affirmative actions are again before the Roberts Court in Fisher v. University of Texas. Abigail Fisher applied to UT for admission into the undergraduate class of 2012. When UT rejected her application, she sued the university, alleging that it discriminated against her because she is white, even though of the 47 equally or “less” qualified students who were admitted over Fisher, 42 were white—only five were Black or Latino. Her case has made it up to the Roberts Court once before. The justices punted on the ultimate question of whether or not the University of Texas’ plan violated the Constitution, instead sending the case back to the conservative Fifth Circuit. After the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the University’s admission plan, again, conservatives ran the case back up to the Roberts Court.
During oral arguments, it became apparent that the conservative wing of the court is prepared to decimate affirmative action. Justice Scalia wondered whether admitting Black students into schools that might be too hard for them was doing them a disservice. Justice Roberts appeared frustrated that affirmative action still exists at all, and wondered what unique perspective a student of color brings to a physics class and whether diversity serves any purpose in that context. Given the Roberts Court’s palpable hostility toward any acknowledgement that race continues to be a decisive factor in the oppression of people of color in the United States, proponents of affirmative action are right to be concerned about the fate of race-conscious admissions policies at colleges and universities.
Courts of Appeals
Purvi Patel Conviction for Feticide
Purvi Patel is an Indian-American woman who in July 2013 entered an emergency room in South Bend, Indiana, while suffering heavy vaginal bleeding. She initially denied to doctors that she had been pregnant, but eventually acknowledged she had miscarried. Patel told hospital staff the fetus was stillborn and that she had placed it in a bag in a dumpster. Doctors then alerted the police, who questioned her and searched her cell phone—all while she was in the hospital and under the influence of pain medication. During the search of her cell phone, police saw a series of text messages, which prosecutors later claimed made the case Patel had attempted an illegal abortion by ordering abortion-inducting medications and taking them. Police charged Patel with felony feticide and neglect of a dependent. The feticide charge presumed the fetus was stillborn, while the neglect of a dependent charge presumed a live birth. Despite this apparent conflict, a jury convicted Patel on both counts. Patel, who has no criminal record, was ordered to serve 20 years in prison. Attorneys have appealed her case, arguing there was no evidence she took any abortion-inducing medication. Attorneys for the State of Indiana have doubled down on Patel’s prosecution and defended their case, arguing as if it is good public health policy to radically restrict contraception and abortion access in the state and then criminally prosecute women whose pregnancies end in anything other than a successful live birth.
Second-Trimester Abortions in Kansas
In 2015, Kansas became the first state to pass a ban on the most commonly used method of ending pregnancy in the second trimester, setting the stage for the next big legal showdown over specific abortion procedures. SB 95 bans dilation and evacuation (D and E) abortions—what anti-choicers like to call “dismemberment abortions”—and is based on legislation drafted by the radically anti-choice National Right to Life Committee. Oklahoma passed a similar version just one day after Kansas did, and copycat legislation has been introduced in both Missouri and South Carolina. Shortly before it was set to take effect in Kansas, reproductive rights advocates sued to block it. But instead of challenging the measure in federal court like most abortion-related challenges, advocates sued in state court, arguing the law violates Sections 1 and 2 of the Kansas Bill of Rights, which they say provide due process guaranteeing the government cannot infringe on personal liberties.
Because due process rights have been used at the federal level to protect the right to an abortion, pro-choice advocates argue the same should be the case under the Kansas Constitution. In December, the entire panel of judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals heard arguments as to whether a temporary order currently blocking the ban should be affirmed as the legal challenge proceeds. Regardless of how the court ultimately rules on the temporary order, the Kansas case is an important one to watch because it is in state court. Almost all of our abortion rights law comes from federal court challenges, but those have become increasingly hostile thanks to decades of conservative judicial appointments. State courts could, therefore, prove to be those rights’ final protectors.
Catholic Hospitals’ Refusal of Services
In 2010, a then-18 weeks pregnant Tamesha Means showed up at Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan, in the middle of having a miscarriage. Mercy Health, a Catholic-sponsored facility, sent Means home twice, saying there was nothing it could do for her. It wasn’t until Means, a mother of three, returned to Mercy Health a third time—this time suffering from a significant infection as her miscarriage persisted untreated—that the hospital decided to treat her by offering her some aspirin for her fever. As Mercy Hospital was preparing to discharge Means once more, she started to deliver. The hospital decided at that point to admit Means and to treat her condition. Means eventually delivered a baby, who died within hours of birth.
Means sued Mercy Health, arguing that its adherence to the “Ethical and Religious Directives“—which, among other regulations, prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination—resulted in medical malpractice in her case. The lower court dismissed Means’ claims, ruling it did not have the power to interpret Catholic doctrine directly. Means appealed, and her case is currently before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, hospitals in California and Michigan face allegations similarto those in the Means case: that adherence to the directives has resulted in malpractice when treating reproductive health-care conditions. So far, courts have not taken this question of whether or not Catholic doctrine can override the medical community’s standard of care. But it is a fight they won’t be able to stay out of long, since one in nine hospital beds in this country are at a Catholic or Catholic-sponsored facility, and they appear to be turning away women in need at a pretty rapid pace.
The Legal Battle Over the Planned Parenthood Tapes
Perhaps the biggest controversy to emerge from 2015 is the video smear campaign waged against Planned Parenthood by David Daleiden and his anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Daleiden’s months-long sting operation, which saw him infiltrate under false pretenses private meetings held by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), resulted in the release of video footage purporting to show that Planned Parenthood is in the grisly business of harvesting fetal “body parts” and profiting from their sale. This, despite the fact that there’s nothing illegal about fetal tissue donation programs and Planned Parenthood has been repeatedly cleared of wrongdoing by several state and federal investigations. Within weeks of the release of the first video, the NAF sued Daleiden and CMP in federal court. The court granted NAF’s request for an order blocking the further release of any video footage recorded at NAF’s private events. It also ordered CMP and Daleiden to turn over to NAF the names of Daleiden’s associates, accomplices, and funders. The information they gave is under protective order, but should the court decide to make that list public, we’ll find out which Republican operatives and politicians, if any, Daleiden worked with to perpetrate this deception.
Anti-Abortion Terrorism in Colorado Springs
Robert Lewis Dear Jr. is accused of opening fire at a Planned Parenthood reproductive health-care facility in late November, killing three people and injuring nine, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been charged in state court with 179 felony counts, including first-degree murder. If convicted, Dear could face the death penalty. Federal prosecutors are also investigating Dear for possible violations of federal law, including the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, the federal statute that makes it a felony to target for harassment abortion clinics, doctors, patients, and staff. Dear’s charges came after a summer of escalating violent anti-choice rhetoric following the CMP’s release of its deceptively edited footage. Conservatives insist their claims about “Planned Parenthood selling baby parts” had nothing to do with the Colorado Springs shooting, despite Dear reportedly telling officers “no more baby parts” when he was arrested and calling himself a “warrior for the babies” in court. Just how much influence did conservative anti-choice rhetoric and politicking influence Dear? We’ll find out during his trial in 2016.
Anna Yocca’s Trial for Attempted Self-Induced Abortion
Police arrested Anna Yocca, a 31-year-old woman from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in December after she allegedly tried to end her pregnancy using a coat hanger at home in her bathtub. During the attempt, Yocca began bleeding heavily and her boyfriend rushed her to the hospital, where doctors delivered a 1.5-pound baby boy. Yocca, who was approximately 24 weeks pregnant when she attempted to terminate her pregnancy, allegedly made “disturbing” statements to hospital staff, including admitting that she tried to self-abort. Her statements led a Rutherford County grand jury to indict her for attempted murder and imprison her in the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center. Should she be convicted, she faces life in prison.
The return of coat-hanger abortions is an alarming indicator of the repressive reproductive rights environment in Tennessee and around the country. Although prominent abortion opponents have claimed they are not interested in prosecuting women who try to self-induce an abortion, the increasing number of women—who include Jennie Lynn McCormack, Jennifer Ann Whalen, and the aforementioned Purvi Patel—who have been thrown in jail for allegedly doing so tells a different story. Prosecutors charged Yocca under the state’s general homicide statute, which opens the constitutional question of whether or not general homicide laws in Tennessee can be used to prosecute women who self-induce an abortion or who otherwise have a failed pregnancy outcome.
In other words, Anna Yocca is a test case for anti-choice prosecutors who want to find a legal hook to charge women who abort with murder.
There’s always something else on the horizon when it comes to reproductive autonomy. We didn’t even include the many other legal challenges to the wave of anti-choice laws passed in 2015, or the explosion of “religious liberties” claims in response to marriage equality and the expanding protection of rights for transgender people. But don’t worry, folks. It may be shaping up to be one helluva year for reproductive rights and justice in the courts, but we’ve got you covered.