Analysis Law and Policy

Ariel Castro Could Face Murder Charges for Terminating Victim’s Pregnancies

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

The law is clear: If Castro terminated McKnight’s pregnancies against her will, he’s guilty of aggravated murder under Ohio law. The question is whether the state can prove that he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ariel Castro was arraigned on four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape after three women and a six-year-old girl were rescued from his dilapidated west Cleveland home. The women told police that Castro had kidnapped them and held them captive for over a decade, subjecting them to frequent rapes and brutal beatings. DNA tests revealed that the child was Castro’s daughter, who had been born and raised in captivity.

Survivor Michelle Knight told police that Castro had impregnated her through rape on at least five occasions, and had starved and beaten her, resulting in the termination of those pregnancies. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty vowed to charge Castro with aggravated murder for each of those alleged forced miscarriages. He said he would consider whether to bring charges that could carry the death penalty.

Maria Russo, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office confirmed to Rewire that McGinty intended to bring aggravated murder charges before a grand jury. She added that if the grand jury indicted Castro, McGinty’s office would begin a process to determine whether to pursue the death penalty. She declined to elaborate on the nature of this process.

Many were surprised to learn that Castro could be facing the death penalty for inducing miscarriages, but only life in prison for imprisoning and torturing three women for a decade.

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Aggravated murder is equivalent to first-degree murder or capital murder. In Ohio, aggravated murder is either premeditated murder or any murder committed in the course of a kidnapping, rape, or other major violent crime. In 1996, Ohio expanded the definition of “murder” to include the unlawful termination of a pregnancy at any stage of development, from fertilization through birth.

Under Ohio law, the penalty for aggravated murder is death or life in prison. As in all death penalty states, capital punishment is reserved for the most heinous murders. Aggravated murder does not carry the death penalty in Ohio unless the government proves that the offense had at least one aggravating factor. The relevant aggravating factor for Castro, the one that could tip his sentence from life in prison to death, would be the fact that he inflicted these unlawful miscarriages in the course of a kidnapping. (Killing in the course of a kidnapping is both a criterion for aggravated murder and an aggravating factor that makes an aggravated murder punishable by death.)

The law is clear: If Castro terminated McKnight’s pregnancies against her will, he’s guilty of aggravated murder under Ohio law. The question is whether the state can prove that he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jerome Phillips, a Toledo criminal defense attorney, says the state’s chances at trial depend entirely on the quality of its evidence. In order to convict Castro on a count of aggravated murder, the state must prove that the victim was pregnant and that Castro’s beatings caused her to miscarry. Even if Castro confessed to the beatings, and admitted that he intended to terminate the pregnancies, that wouldn’t necessarily prove that the beatings caused the miscarriages. To make up for the lack of physical evidence, the state could call expert witnesses to testify about the likely effects of starving and beating a pregnant woman, but that might not be enough to secure a conviction. The defense could call its own experts to point out that many women carry to term despite beatings and malnutrition and that many women miscarry spontaneously.

Ohio is one of 38 states with so-called fetal homicide laws. Many of these laws have language that explicitly excludes pregnant women from prosecution for terminating their own pregnancies and/or language that protects legal abortion providers who provide abortions to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. By national standards, Ohio’s fetal homicide law is one of the more severe, in that it treats the unlawful termination of a pregnancy as homicide beginning at fertilization, and in that the punishment is the same as the murder of a born person. Some states only criminalize the termination of pregnancies either after viability or after quickening.

Criminalizing fetal homicide is not the only way to penalize violence against pregnant women. Some states, like Colorado, frame unlawful interference with a pregnancy as an attack on the pregnant woman, rather than as an offense against the fetus.

Castro’s case is unusual because he could face the death penalty for terminating a pregnancy without having killed a pregnant woman in the process. When the death penalty comes into play in fetal homicide cases, it’s usually in conjunction with the murder of a pregnant woman. Scott Peterson sits on death row in California because he killed his pregnant wife, which counted as two murders because she was eight-months pregnant. The fact that Peterson was deemed to have killed two victims at once made him eligible for death as opposed to life in prison. Jody Ard spent 11 years on South Carolina’s death row for fatally shooting his pregnant girlfriend and thereby ending her pregnancy. Ard wouldn’t have faced the death penalty for killing his girlfriend if she hadn’t been pregnant. Happily for Ard, new evidence came to light that he didn’t murder his girlfriend after all, and he was freed in 2012 after a new trial.

The prospect of a death sentence for the unlawful termination of a pregnancy raises important constitutional questions. In general, it’s considered cruel and unusual punishment and therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment to put someone to death for anything less than murder. For example, states can’t sentence people to death for rape because a death sentence is considered to be a disproportionate punishment.

Ohio has redefined “murder” to include the unlawful termination of a pregnancy, but Ohio can only pass laws that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person under the 14th Amendment, and therefore does not have a right to life. Murder is punished severely because the murderer violates the victim’s right to life. One might argue that it is therefore disproportionate for Ohio to execute someone for destroying an entity that has no right life of its own. Such a case might also give anti-choice groups a long-awaited opportunity to argue that the proliferation of tough laws against unlawful terminations prove that our society values fetuses as human beings and that our interpretation of the Constitution must change accordingly.

If Castro were convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death, the case could spark constitutional challenges that would drag on for years. The courts would be deluged with amicus briefs from all sides the debates over abortion and the death penalty. The suffering of the victims and the crimes of the perpetrator would be eclipsed by the pitched legal battle.

Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an advocacy group that tracks legislation affecting the rights of pregnant women, says that fetal homicide laws are invariably passed in response to incidents of terrible violence or gross negligence against pregnant women. (Ohio’s criminal code was amended to include unlawful termination of pregnancy after a drunk driver struck and killed a pregnant woman.) However, Paltrow notes that these laws are often used to criminalize the conduct of pregnant women for stigmatized behaviors like drug use and suicide attempts. In her view, the controversy over whether Castro will be charged with murder is deflecting attention from the problem that fetal homicide laws were ostensibly created to address: the epidemic of violence against pregnant women. She notes that despite the proliferation of fetal homicide laws, no study has shown that these laws reduce violence against pregnant women.

It’s not clear whether Ariel Castro will ever stand trial. The 52-year-old has already confessed to enough counts of kidnapping and rape to put him behind bars for the rest of his life. Prosecutor McGinty may be holding up the death penalty as a ploy to encourage Castro to plead guilty and spare the victims the agony of a trial. Even if Castro won’t plead guilty, McGinty should pay careful attention to the wishes of the victims before proceeding with the aggravated murder charges. A capital murder trial will be a much more time-consuming and laborious endeavor than a trial on rape and kidnapping charges alone. The victims will have to testify at greater length and endure more grueling cross examination about their abuse. Even then, convictions for aggravated murder aren’t guaranteed. In his zeal for justice, McGinty should always keep the desires of the victims front-and-center.

News Human Rights

Flint Investigator: Officials Could Face Manslaughter Charges in Water Crisis

Kanya D’Almeida

Todd Flood, a special counsel leading the probe into Flint’s water contamination emergency, told the press that his team is taking the case “very seriously.”

Read more of our articles on Flint’s water emergency here.

Officials involved in the Flint, Michigan, water crisis may face charges as serious as manslaughter if they are found guilty of a “breach of duty” or “gross negligence,” a top investigator revealed Tuesday.

Todd Flood, a special counsel selected by the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to lead the probe into Flint’s water contamination emergency, told the press that his team is taking the case “very seriously.”

“We’re here to investigate what possible crimes there are, anything [from] involuntary manslaughter or death that may have happened to some young person or old person because of this poisoning, to misconduct in office,” Flood said, according to the Washington Post.

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Flood was tasked with examining both civil and criminal liability in the ongoing disaster since Schuette’s office has its hands full defending Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and various state agencies in a slew of lawsuits brought by Flint residents. They say that city, state, and county officials ignored concerns over lead contamination in the drinking water supply for more than a year.

A congressional hearing last week set the stage for the investigation by hauling several officials in for questioning, including Keith Creagh, a political appointee who oversaw the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) throughout the crisis, and Joel Beauvais, deputy assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water.

Both faced questioning by members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which convened the hearing. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) evoked a cult leader’s 1978 mass murder-suicide of nearly 1,000 of his followers, stating, “There is a Jim Jones in Michigan, who gave a poisoned concoction to children and their families.”

Flint switched its water source from Lake Huron via the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River in April 2014 under the guidance of emergency managers appointed by Snyder. Many of the city’s 100,000 residents quickly noticed changes in their household water, from foul odors to severe discoloration, a result of the corrosive Flint River water eating away at old lead pipes.

People began to fall ill, with children breaking out in rashes and adults losing clumps of their hair in the shower. While these symptoms have now been widely recognized as signs of lead exposure, officials insisted for months that the water was safe to drink. Leaked documents and emails dating back to 2014 reveal that numerous departments, including the EPA and the MDEQ, were aware of the problem for several months and took steps to safeguard their employees against lead poisoning while Flint residents—who are mostly poor and predominantly Black—were forced to drink, cook, and bathe with the toxic water.

The most recent twist in the saga involving officials’ handling of the contamination came on Tuesday, when the Detroit Free Press published a cache of emails secured through a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that bureaucratic hurdles were standing in the way of an efficient response to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease following the switch to the Flint River—eight months before Snyder spoke publicly about the illness.

The governor and his administration have maintained for more than a month that there is insufficient evidence to prove a link between the potentially fatal bacterial infection and Flint’s lead-poisoned water, but the latest email dump could make it hard for officials to stand by this statement.

In an email dated April 27, 2015, a CDC employee told Genesee County health officials that the outbreak of Legionnaires’ was “one of the largest we know of in the past decade, and community-wide, and in our opinion and experience it needs a comprehensive investigation.”

The CDC official went on: “I know you’ve run into issues getting information you’ve requested from the city water authority and the MI Dept of Environmental Quality … Not knowing the full extent of your investigation it’s difficult to make recommendations … from afar.”

There have been 87 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, and nine confirmed fatalities. The outbreak added to a long list of pressing health concerns for Flint residents following the water supply switch in 2014, including the risk of miscarriage and pre-term delivery for pregnant people, and permanent brain damage and reduced cognitive functioning in young children.

Investigators made no mention of the CDC correspondence in Tuesday’s press conference in Lansing. Flood assured reporters that he would lead a “full and comprehensive investigation” into the many aspects of the disaster.

Several state legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), have raised a red flag over the cost of the inquiry, referencing Flood’s hourly rate of $400. Others have expressed concerns over Flood’s impartiality given that he has made political contributions to both Snyder and Schuette, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The team is comprised of nine full-time investigators. It includes former Detroit police officers, and the former head of Detroit’s FBI office, Andrew Arena, who claims he came out of retirement because the mass poisoning of Flint’s residents is the “the biggest case in the history of the state.”

A large crowd gathered Wednesday morning at the state capitol, where Snyder was slated to unveil his proposed annual budget. Protesters booed and called for the governor’s resignation, according to local news reports.

Snyder vowed to increase spending on Flint by $195 million, bringing the total pledged to the crisis to $232 million. Snyder earmarked $37 million for safe drinking water and dedicated $63 million toward the elusive goal of “physical, social, and educational well-being,” as well as $50 million toward water bill relief.

The budget did not allocate funds for the immediate removal and replacement of Flint’s aging pipes, which are continuing to leach lead into the water supply. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said last week that replacing the pipes, particularly in the homes of pregnant women and families with children younger than 6 years of age, was her “top priority.”

Analysis Law and Policy

Here’s Why 2016 Could Be the Biggest Year for Reproductive Rights and the Courts in Decades

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

The next year promises to be an eventful one on the legal front—though we feel like we say that every December.

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 still shaping 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

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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 Texasthe case challenging the admissions policy at the University of Texas on the grounds that it discriminates against white studentsEvenwel 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 similar to 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.

Trial Courts

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 McCormackJennifer 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.

Anything Else?

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.