By Cathren Cohen
Following the news, it is hard not to become discouraged by the state of abortion policy in the United States. The right to an abortion, recognized as a fundamental by the Supreme Court in 1973, has been under persistent and unprecedented attack for the past decade. In recent years, conservative state legislators have introduced and passed (sometimes blatantly unconstitutional) bills which would ban all, most, or some abortions. The fact that these laws often violate Roe v. Wade is intentional: anti-choice activists are attempting to set up an opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn or undermine the ruling, emboldened by the confirmation of anti-choice Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Luckily, “abortion is still legal” in every state, said Yveka Pierre, Litigation Counsel at If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, a law and policy organization fighting for reproductive justice. “ABORTION IS STILL LEGAL!” she repeated for good measure. Last season on the Sex Ed with DB Podcast, we chatted with Yveka and Robin Marty, a freelance reporter and the author of the book “Handbook for a Post-Roe America,” about recent efforts to ban or limit abortion. (We also had Amelia Bonow, the Founding Director of Shout Your Abortion, as a guest on this episode! Listen to the full thing here.)
“ABORTION IS STILL LEGAL!” she repeated for good measure.
The Legal Landscape
2019 saw a surge of radical gestational abortion bans (laws which prohibit abortion at a specific point in pregnancy), such as Alabama’s total abortion ban and Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio’s six-week bans (which is before most people know they are pregnant). However, Yveka reassured us that “none of these laws are currently in effect. They’re all currently being fought tooth and nail by a variety of attorneys, and abortion is still legal in those states and every other state.”
“[N]one of these laws are currently in effect. They’re all currently being fought tooth and nail by a variety of attorneys, and abortion is still legal in those states and every other state.”
Because of these lawsuits, abortion remains technically legal; however, due to another category of anti-choice laws, known as “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider” or “TRAP” laws, abortion remains inaccessible to many people. TRAP laws impose medically unnecessary burdens specifically on abortion providers, but not other providers of similarly serious medical care. Unable to meet these unwarranted requirements, abortion clinics have been forced to close across the country, leaving many states with only a few or even just one abortion provider. Statistics show that pregnant people in these states, in need of care but unable to access a clinic, have taken it upon themselves to manage their own abortions.
Robin Marty wants her book to help people learn how to safely self-manage abortion care, because she believes that abortion access is “only going to get worse, whether it’s legal or not. So what are steps that can be taken in order to do abortion safely and then try to protect oneself [legally] in order to do self-managed care?” Plus, as she points out, “we have been living in a post-Roe world for many, many communities in the United States, for people who are undocumented, for people who are poor, for people who don’t have healthcare coverage. There are so many people right now who already aren’t able to access abortion.”
“[W]e have been living in a post-Roe world for many, many communities in the United States, for people who are undocumented, for people who are poor, for people who don’t have healthcare coverage.
Despite what you may see on pro-life protest posters, these days, self-managed abortion fortunately does not require a coat hanger. Pregnant people who are unable to access an abortion provider can induce on their own using medication. Medication abortion, or “the abortion pill,” is really two medications: mifepristone, which stops the pregnancy from developing, and misoprostol, which causes contractions to expel the contents of the uterus.
Despite what you may see on pro-life protest posters, these days, self-managed abortion fortunately does not require a coat hanger.
Taken 48 hours apart, these medications are an effective method of ending pregnancy up to 10 weeks after the first day of the person’s last period. Medication abortion, first approved by the FDA in 2000, has allowed people to have abortions in the privacy of their own homes and is particularly beneficial to those who do not have access to a clinic, as the pills can be mailed all over the world. Robin recommended a few of her favorite safe sources for abortion pills, including PlanCPills.org, Women on Waves/Women on Web, and Women Help Women.
Criminalization of Pregnancy Outcomes
Contrary to what anti-choice lawmakers try to argue, self-managed abortion “physically [is] not dangerous,” says Robin, “the thing that is dangerous about it is the fact that too many people who would undergo it — if they are worried that they are having a complication, in the rare case that they are — they’re afraid to go to hospitals because they might get arrested.” Robin is referencing a concerning but growing trend of criminalizing pregnant people for negative pregnancy outcomes, whether they be self-induced abortion or simply having a miscarriage.
"[T]hey’re afraid to go to hospitals because they might get arrested."
We discussed notorious cases of pregnancy criminalization with Yveka, including the story of Purvi Patel, a Southeast Asian woman who was charged with feticide in Mike Pence’s Indiana after being accused of terminating her pregnancy with pills she ordered online. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison and was incarcerated for over a year before the feticide charge was reversed on appeal. Yveka explained that certain communities are at increased risk of pregnancy criminalization, due to assumptions of criminality and “extra surveillance of police that’s more likely in certain communities, specifically that of black and brown people, specifically that of trans and gender-nonconforming communities.”
[C]ertain communities are at increased risk of pregnancy criminalization, due to assumptions of criminality and “extra surveillance of police that’s more likely in certain communities, specifically that of black and brown people, specifically that of trans and gender-nonconforming communities.”
In light of these risks, Robin hopes that her book will not just spread information about how to self-induce an abortion, but also about how pregnant people can protect themselves legally as well, in the rare case of complication. Her number one piece of advice? Faced with a scary medical situation, all you need to say is: “I’m pregnant, I think I’m miscarrying, and I’m scared.”
Faced with a scary medical situation, all you need to say is: “I’m pregnant, I think I’m miscarrying, and I’m scared.”
For more specific advice, Yveka’s organization, If/When/How, can help via their Repro Legal Helpline, a free, confidential resource for information about your legal rights regarding self-managed abortion. “People who wsnt to know about self-managed abortion laws in their state can reach out to us.” said Yveka. If/When/How is currently building out their RJ Lawyers Network, a group of legal professionals who are trained to support people whose reproductive freedom is under attack.
Sex Ed with DB Podcast
In the face of this unprecedented attack on abortion rights, knowledge is power. That’s why the Sex Ed with DB podcast was thrilled to bring Robin and Yveka’s expertise to our listeners and now to our readers. Sex Ed with DB is a feminist podcast dedicated to bringing you all the sex ed you never got through unique and entertaining storytelling. Be sure to tune in this Spring when we air Season 4, and in the meantime catch up on Seasons 1, 2, and 3 on Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Cathren is an attorney, activist, and the Co-Producer of Sex Ed with DB, a feminist podcast bringing you all the sex ed you never got through unique and entertaining storytelling. She is a proud graduate of NYU School of Law and UCLA and lives in Los Angeles.