A 31-year-old woman from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was arrested last week on the charge of attempted first-degree murder after a failed attempt to abort her 24-week pregnancy in September resulted in her being rushed to a hospital, where doctors delivered a 1.5-pound baby boy.
According to local news reports, detectives investigating the incident found Anna Yocca allegedly made “disturbing statements” to hospital staff where she was admitted after using a coat hanger to try and terminate her pregnancy. Those statements led a Rutherford County grand jury to indict her for attempted murder and confine her to the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center. Her bond has been set at $200,000 and her court date for December 21.
Pro-choice advocates see Yocca’s situation as the end result of a rash of highly restrictive laws that have choked reproductive rights throughout Tennessee, largely since voters approved a November 2014 amendment to the state constitution that awarded lawmakers sweeping powers to chip away at access to reproductive health care.
New measures include such anti-choice bills as SB 1280, passed in May, which requires facilities providing abortion services to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers (ASTCs), effectively legislating the conversion of these smaller clinics into mini-hospitals. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law despite leading bodies of medical experts, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, having labeled ASTC standards for abortion providers “medically unnecessary.” A court, however, agreed to temporarily block the measure from taking effect while a legal challenge to the law proceeds.
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Other bills introduced in Tennessee’s GOP-led legislature, such as SB 1391, strip pregnant women of their constitutionally protected right to privacy under the guise of “protecting” fetuses and unborn babies, essentially giving the state a green light to investigate or incarcerate women based on pregnancy outcomes following the suspected illegal use of a narcotic.
“Tennessee’s homicide law explicitly doesn’t apply to [Yocca],” explained Farah Diaz-Tello, senior staff attorney at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, “but this arrest tells women that if they try to seek emergency medical assistance, they may end up behind bars. That won’t stop women from having abortions, but it will stop them from getting help.”
In a statement released shortly after Yocca’s arrest, the Memphis-based reproductive justice organization SisterReach lamented, “Our greatest fear has come to pass, and it could have been avoided. Women are attempting to self-abort due to restrictive abortion and punitive fetal assault legislation.”
“These acts of desperation will happen more frequently unless the Tennessee Legislature reconsiders its posture about both current and potential anti-abortion legislation and the fetal assault law which allows a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for fetal harm,” said
Murfreesboro Police Department Detective Tommy Roberts reported that Yocca apparently filled a bathtub with water, climbed in, and tried to induce an abortion using a coat hanger. When she began bleeding profusely, her boyfriend rushed her to a nearby hospital. She was then transferred to a medical facility in Nashville, where doctors delivered a premature baby.
Advocates like Scott say that until women have access to safe abortions, acts like self-induced abortions will continue.
“The Tennessee legislature is responsible for the coat hanger, however, Ms. Yocca is on trial and that is unacceptable,” Scott said in the press release.