Between 2000 and 2020, 61 people, including seven minors, were criminally investigated or arrested for allegedly ending their own pregnancies or helping someone else do so, according to a report from If/When/How, a reproductive justice group that helps people deal with legal cases related to pregnancy. Only 14 of those cases arose in the seven states that had bans on “self-managed abortion” on the books. The report found that the vast majority of those cases were charged under other kinds of laws – ones that prosecutors had made elastic enough to fit the supposed crime, reports The Guardian.“This criminalization is happening in spite of the law, not because of it,” said Laura Huss of If/When/How. “It’s really important also to acknowledge, to name and to recognize that the wrongful charges that we’ve seen are illegitimate uses of state power and must be challenged.”
Out of 54 cases that involved adults, 42 proceeded through the criminal court process and more than 40% of the cases involved people of color. In 45% of cases, it was health care providers or social workers who tipped off police to the suspected self-managed abortion – even though, according to If/When/How, there is no state or federal law that requires these providers to report self-managed abortions to law enforcement. By doing so, providers might be violating their patients’ privacy rights. Most of the cases found by If/When/How allegedly involved people inducing an abortion using pills, a method that medical experts can agree is safe if used early on in pregnancy. In 9% of cases, people allegedly used some kind of herb or “botanic medicinals”, while people allegedly used physical force in 7% of cases. People also allegedly used household or toxic poison in 4% of cases. Thirty cases involved people facing criminal consequences for their own suspected self-managed abortions, rather than helping someone else found. Seven were charged under self-managed abortion bans, eight under abortion bans, four under “fetal harm” laws, and another 12 were charged using a variety of crimes, including child abuse, felony assault or assault of an unborn child, practicing medicine without a license, or even homicide and murder.