A 31-year-old woman from Tennessee is being charged with first degree attempted murder for allegedly attempting to self-abort a pregnancy that was about six months along.
Murfreesboro Police report that Anne Yocca went to her upstairs bathroom, drew herself a bath and then used the coat hanger to try to end her pregnancy. She allegedly became alarmed by the amount of blood that was lost and was taken to a nearby hospital by her boyfriend. After being transferred to another hospital, staff were able to save the fetus. However, medical personnel note that the baby will have a very difficult life, including needing daily oxygen and medicine and having poor lung, eye and heart functions.
While all of this took place a couple of months ago, Yocca was only recently arrested and indicted on a first degree attempted murder charge. And while the details of why Yocca may have chosen an at-home abortion at 24 weeks’ gestation are up to the courts to decide, the situation speaks to the larger issue of reproductive rights and access in America.
It’s no secret that access to full-spectrum reproductive care has become more difficult in this country. Many women’s health clinics are closing due to lack of funding, leaving too many women without easy access to care. Combine that with increasingly stringent laws surrounding abortion, and it’s no wonder the “war on women” continues to have many devastating battles play out.
Tennessee has some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws. The state gets an F rating from NARAL pro-choice America, as the state subjects women seeking abortion services to biased-counseling requirements and mandatory delays, restricts insurance coverage of abortion for some individuals and outlaws abortion after 12 weeks.
Reality, however, shows that some women may not realize they’re pregnant until then, which would make procuring an abortion extremely difficult. One out of every 450 women actually don’t know they’re pregnant until they’re at least 20 weeks, and another 1 in 2,500 don’t know until they go into labor (yes, it’s more common than you’d think). Even if somebody found out they were pregnant before the 12-week limit and wanted to terminate, there’s no guarantee they would be able to get an appointment for an abortion before the state’s deadline.
The fact that Yocca may have felt this was her only recourse speaks to the fact that reproductive rights in this country are completely messed up. While the police report states that Yocca told hospital staff she wanted to terminate her pregnancy with a coat hanger when she was 24 weeks pregnant along with other “disturbing statements,” the truth is, we still don’t know the whole story. Perhaps this was just a woman who did not want to be pregnant but had no other options. Perhaps there is a mental health component, which is a whole other complicated issue that needs addressing. Either way, this story is a tragedy no matter how you look at it.
In a statement released to SheKnows, Cherisse A. Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, a reproductive justice organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, said:
Women are attempting to self-abort due to restrictive abortion and punitive fetal assault legislation. We extend our deepest sympathies to Anna Yocca and her partner for not having the resources they needed and in a timely fashion to access a safe abortion and without having to resort to the dangerous and often deadly alternative of using a coat hanger. 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.
I happen to own a necklace with a coat hanger “charm” that I made myself with bronze-colored wire. I wear it as a reminder that, because of all the hits reproductive health care has taken, we’re never that far off from the era of coat-hanger abortions, an era when women were made to feel stigma and shame and where attempts at self-abortion could cost the life of the woman attempting it.
Now it’s 2015, yet unfortunately it sometimes feels as if we’ve moved backward when it comes to reproductive health care. When women cannot access safe and affordable care — even if it’s to terminate a pregnancy — this is the outcome. An at-home abortion. A jailed woman. A little baby who will have an absolutely devastating quality of life. None of this is OK. None of this is justified.