Tennessee Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Charges in Self-Induced Abortion Case

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Tennessee Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Charges in Self-Induced Abortion Case

Teddy Wilson

Anna Yocca’s case is a “first-of-its-kind prosecution” that is not supported by the language of the law or the Tennessee Constitution, said Jill Adams, executive director for the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice.

A Tennessee woman accused of using a coat hanger to try to terminate her pregnancy entered a plea of not guilty on Monday to felony charges filed November 12.

Anna Yocca was charged in December 2015 with attempted first-degree murder. That charge was reduced in March to aggravated assault.

A Rutherford County grand jury brought three new charges against Yocca in mid-November: aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage, and attempted criminal abortion.

Aggravated assault with a weapon and attempted criminal abortion each carry jail terms of three to 15 years and fines up to $10,000, while attempted procurement of a miscarriage is punishable by one to six years in jail and a fine of up to $3,000.

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Yocca told the court she understands the new charges and entered a plea of not guilty via closed-circuit video, reported the Daily News Journal.

Allison Glass, director of Healthy and Free Tennessee, told the New York Times that while Yocca’s case is “very shocking” and “incredibly tragic,” it could be indicative of the future of reproductive rights.

“This is not a common case for Tennessee, but with the threat of Roe being overturned, that is absolutely where we are headed,” Glass said, referring to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Glass said abortion care clinics are located in four out of 95 counties in Tennessee. Yocca’s home county does not have an abortion clinic, she said.

Jill Adams, executive director of the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, told Rewire that Yocca’s case is a “first-of-its-kind prosecution” that is not supported by the language of the law or by the state constitution.

“Ms. Yocca’s situation happened to transpire in the only two-year period in which Tennessee had a law on the books that permitted pregnant people to be prosecuted for negative pregnancy outcomes,” Adams said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in April 2014 signed into law legislation that allowed criminal charges against people who struggle with drug dependency during pregnancy. The original bill allowed the state to prosecute a woman for homicide if the fetus or baby died, but it was amended to only allow charges of aggravated assault.

The law expired on July 1, 2016.

The laws that Yocca is alleged to have violated were passed with the intention of protecting pregnant people who sought abortion care from “unscrupulous or unsafe providers,” Adams said. 

“If Tennessee’s criminal abortion law is construed to apply to a pregnant person then someone who goes to an abortion provider and that abortion provider has not met all of the legal requirements—that pregnant person can be charged with a felony,” Adams said.

This kind of application of the law would constitute an “undue burden” for pregnant people seeking abortion care, according to case law established in McCormack v. Hiedeman.

Yocca is being held at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, according to the Daily News Journal. Her next court date is December 9.