A woman in South Carolina was arrested and charged this week for allegedly taking abortion pills in 2021.
As first reported by The State, the woman sought medical care associated with labor pains in October 2021, according to the police report, which was obtained and posted online by Jezebel. She told health care workers that she had taken pills that would end her pregnancy.
After the fetus was determined by a coroner to be stillborn at 25 weeks, the coroner’s office reported the patient to the Greenville Police Department. The police then obtained a warrant for her arrest in September 2022. The police report identifies the woman as Black. She was reportedly released after posting a $2,500 bond.
Though the alleged abortion occurred before extremists on the Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections established under Roe v. Wade, South Carolina was one of a few states with a law in place banning self-managed abortions. Abortions up to 22 weeks of pregnancy are currently legal in South Carolina, after the state Supreme Court blocked a law banning abortion around six weeks.
It’s unclear why law enforcement officials took so long to arrest and charge the woman — but the incident does line up with experts’ warnings that ending Roe would lead to far more people being arrested and criminalized for exercising their right to bodily autonomy. It also lines up with trends of Black, brown and Indigenous people being disproportionately criminalized for reproductive care-related incidents both before and after the fall of Roe.
“This case predates the reversal of Roe, but we sadly know it’s indicative of where we’re headed. Self-managing an abortion with medication is extremely safe; it is the criminalization of it that makes it dangerous,” Pregnancy Justice acting executive director Dana Sussman told Jezebel. “Like so many cases, the sharing of personal medical information with a provider led to criminal charges. Seeking care or self-managing an abortion should never lead to criminal prosecution.”
Experts and abortion advocates have warned that it can indeed be dangerous for a patient to tell a medical provider that they are self-managing their abortion. If/When/How found in a report last year that, of the 61 cases of people arrested for ending their pregnancy or aiding someone else in doing so between 2000 and 2020, 45 percent of the cases were brought to the attention of police by health care providers or social workers. Twenty-six percent were reported by acquaintances and 18 percent through means like police finding fetal remains.
Advocates recommend that patients be extremely mindful of the information they share with health care workers. They say that patients do not have to inform health care workers if they took abortion pills, and that they can say they are experiencing a miscarriage — after all, the medical term for a miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion.”
Advocates also say that now is the time for information about safely carrying out or aiding in self-managed abortions to be widely known. There are a variety of sources online about how to manage an abortion with a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, or with just misoprostol — though advocates also recommend being cautious about leaving a digital trail of evidence about obtaining an abortion.
Jezebel points those needing assistance with self-managing a miscarriage or abortion to two hotlines: the Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline, at (833) 246-2632 for medical support, and If/When/How’s Repro Legal Hotline at (844) 868-2812 for legal information and support. Both hotlines are confidential.
Recent laws passed and introduced by far right lawmakers have not just been outlawing abortions, but also criminalizing people who obtain them or people who help someone obtain the procedure.
Another extremely dangerous bill recently introduced by Republicans in South Carolina would allow the state to convict someone who obtained an abortion under the same penalties as a murder, opening people up to potentially being subject to the death penalty for getting an abortion. Iowa Republicans have introduced a bill that would sentence people to up to five years in prison if they received abortion pills in the mail.
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