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The Post-Legal Abortion Reality

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It’s somewhat unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade entirely in the future and certainly highly unlikely in the next few years. But as Scott always points out, the courts and conservative states are making it almost impossible for most women to actually access abortion providers. This creates a scenario where the daughter of a governor or businessman will be able to have that abortion, but not some 16 year old poor person or 35 year old married couple who don’t want to have a 7th child.

When we make abortion illegal or nearly illegal, what happens to women’s medical care? We can look to Latin America to answer that question. And it’s horrible.

In Paraguay, a 10-year-old rape victim is denied an abortion—even though her stepfather is her attacker. In El Salvador, suicide is the cause of death for 57 percent of pregnant females between ages 10 and 19. In Nicaragua, doctors are anxious about even treating a miscarriage. All of these instances are the result of draconian abortion laws that have outlawed critical reproductive care in nations throughout Latin America. If stories like these seem remote to American readers, it’s because they’ve been largely eliminated through widespread access to basic abortion services beginning in the 1970s. But with the Republican Party now chipping away at our right to make our own reproductive health choices, these realities could become commonplace in the United States once again.

In El Salvador, a 1998 law went into effect that made abortion illegal with no exceptions—including rape, life of the mother, or incest. Women who are found guilty of having an abortion face two to eight years in prison. Punishment is widespread as well. Anyone found guilty of assisting in the abortion also faces two to eight years in prisons. Doctors and nurses who assist and perform abortions face six to twelve years behind bars.

With harsh consequences for obtaining an abortion, women in El Salvador and other countries often turn to clandestine—and sometimes dangerous—methods. The drug misoprostol, often referred to as just “miso” and used for treating ulcers has become a popular abortion drug. But without access to dosage information and no supervision, using miso can lead to complications or even death. Yet, as Andrea Grimes documented at RH Reality Check in March, the use of misoprostol is gaining traction, even in the United States. And when used correctly, miso is safer than other self-inducing options.

Kenlissia Jones from Albany, Georgia, ordered pills online to end her pregnancy. After ingesting them, she gave birth to the fetus in a car on her way to the hospital. She was arrested on charges of murder and illegal drug possession and taken to county jail. The prosecutor dismissed the murder charges, but Jones still faces charges of drug possession. In Georgia, 58 percent of women live in a county with no abortion provider.

In Indiana, Purvi Patel suffered a miscarriage and put the fetus in a bag in a dumpster. At the hospital, while suffering from heavy bleeding, law enforcement arrived to question her. During the investigation, local police found text messages that indicated Patel had ordered drugs online to end her pregnancy, but a toxicologist testified at her trial that no drugs were found in her blood sample. In March, Patel was sentenced to 30 years in prison for neglecting a dependent as well as six years for feticide.

When abortion is illegal, even miscarriages can end in prison sentences. Purvi Patel’s story mirror the stories of the 17 women jailed in El Salvador whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage or complications during birth. Many of them were charged with murder and sentenced to decades in prison. A woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care can be reported to authorities if medical professionals suspect that the woman induced an abortion.

We are already seeing the impact of impossible to achieve abortion with women in the United States. The criminalization of pregnant women by the Republican Party is a violation of human rights. We are already seeing the mistreatment of pregnant women that is so common in Latin America seep into the United States and with laws like Texas H.B.2 making abortion an impossible choice for most women, the broader impact can include a decline in reproductive care generally.

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