Worried that women will be prosecuted for using abortion pills? It’s already happening | Arwa Mahdawi


South Carolina woman arrested for taking abortion pills

In October 2021 a 33-year-old woman in Greenville, South Carolina, went to the hospital with labor pains. According to a police incident report, the woman told healthcare workers that she’d taken abortion pills to end her pregnancy; her fetus was estimated to be stillborn at 25 weeks. This week she was arrested and charged with performing or soliciting an abortion. Abortion is currently legal in South Carolina until 20 weeks of pregnancy but it is one of just a handful of states with a law explicitly criminalizing self-managed abortions.

This story, which was first reported by the State, a South Carolina paper, is still developing and not all the details are clear. It’s not clear, for example, when exactly the woman took the abortion pills. It’s not clear why authorities waited so long to charge the woman. And it’s not clear who reported the woman to the police. However, it seems likely that it was the medical workers she trusted with her care. What is clear is that this will not be the last instance of a woman being arrested for a self-managed abortion in the US. Also depressingly clear? The fact that stories like this will prevent women from seeking medical care for fear that they might be handed in to the police. Which means more women unnecessarily putting their health in danger.

While South Carolina may be one of the few states to outright ban abortion pills, anti-abortion activists across the US are trying their best to make accessing mifepristone, the first pill used in the two-drug abortion pill protocol, as difficult as possible or to outlaw it altogether. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointed federal district judge in Texas, for example, is currently considering a petition that would nullify the approval given to mifepristone 22 years ago by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Meanwhile, Texas recently introduced a bill that would censor information about abortion pills online. The bill, duplicitously called the Women and Child Safety Act, would make it illegal for an internet service provider to let someone access information on how to get abortion pills. It would also criminalize hosting a website that would help someone seeking an abortion.

As the state of reproductive rights in the US grows increasingly dystopian, it’s important to remember that these draconian laws don’t affect women equally. Privileged women will almost always be able to get a safe and effective abortion. The mistresses of anti-abortion Republican politicians will almost always be able to get a safe and effective abortion. It is women from more marginalized backgrounds who will suffer – indeed these women have seen their pregnancies policed long before Roe was overturned. As Jezebel notes, “The [South Carolina] woman is identified in the police report as being Black. Black, brown, Indigenous and other people of color have been disproportionately criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes for decades.”

“Government should be so small you don’t even realize it’s there,” the official Twitter account of the Republican National Committee tweeted on Thursday. Censoring the internet? Banning abortion medication that has been proved to be safe and effective for decades? Throwing women in jail for their reproductive choices? That certainly doesn’t seem like small government to me. But there’s not much use pointing out Republican hypocrisy, is there? They don’t care about being called hypocritical, they just care about power and control. And as their sustained assault on reproductive rights demonstrates, they’re very good at finding ways to get both of those things.

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