Last week, a 20-year-old woman in New York City was arrested on charges of “self-induced abortion” and faces first-degree misdemeanor charges. Initial news reports indicate that she intentionally caused the miscarriage/abortion of her 24-week fetus. The woman disposed of the fetus in what was probably the only way she could think of: wrapped in plastic bags and placed in the trash receptacle of her apartment building.
The prosecution of this woman echoes similar cases in Idaho, Massachusetts and South Carolina. In spite of ever-increasing restrictions, abortion is legal through the second-trimester throughout the United States, although it is inaccessible to many women. Yet if women safely end their pregnancies without medical supervision, they face criminal penalties.
The key word here is “safely.” There are many misconceptions about what happens during a non-surgical abortion. In fact, abortion with medications (such as misoprostol alone or in combination with mifepristone) causes a miscarriage. The symptoms of abortion with medicines in the first trimester are exactly the same as a miscarriage, and as safe. Rarely do women who have a miscarriage need medical attention; the same is true for women having a medication abortion.
In the second trimester, the risks of a complication after a miscarriage, whether occurring spontaneously or provoked by medicines, is somewhat higher. However, it is notable that the woman in New York City, like the women prosecuted in three other states, was in the second trimester and did not require any kind of medical intervention after her abortion. We have to ask then – is the outcry when women choose to self-induce truly driven by the need to protect the health and safety of the woman? Or is this another example of over-regulation because of the politics of abortion?