Abortion Punishments Are Already Happening

by Joseph D. Lyons

The idea that a woman would go to jail or somehow be punished for having an abortion in 2016 is almost unbelievable. And yet it happens. It happens in the United States of America. In Indiana. In Pennsylvania. Donald Trump's incendiary remarks that, as president, he would criminalize the procedure, and that women would then be punished for having an abortion, are scarily similar to real-life cases that already have played out in our court system — without any laws like the draconian one Trump briefly espoused.

Roe v. Wade protects a woman's right to choose, but in recent years, restrictions on the procedure have proliferated around the country. You have probably heard of the one in Texas that is on the Supreme Court's docket this year, but that's not the most troublesome. Fetal rights laws have been passed in a number of states over the past few years. Now, about 38 have them on the books. Their purpose? To "protect fetuses and punish individuals who injure them or cause their death."

So what if you want an abortion? It's chilling to see how these laws are applied — and how they often seem to do just what Trump proposed, and punish women for having abortions. Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman from Indiana, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for ending her pregnancy last April. She was charged with felony child neglect and feticide.

The prosecution charged her with feticide for trying to end her pregnancy. Yes. Exactly as it sounds. The Indiana fetal rights law doesn't apply to legal abortions, but hers wasn't one. Her pregnancy was toward the end of her second trimester, so she ordered a drug that is commonly used to induce an abortion online. Prosecutors claimed the child was born alive, but the evidence was highly contested.

This is just one of many instances. In 2011, Indiana also prosecuted a Chinese woman who tried to commit suicide after her fetus died during the attempt. She was held for more than a year on charges of murdering her fetus and attempted feticide before she got a plea deal for a lesser charge and was released. An Iowa woman was arrested after she fell down a flight of stairs and lost her baby. She was released only because she was in her second trimester. Had she been in her third, she could be in jail right now.

In Utah in 2004, a woman gave birth to twins. One was stillborn. She was arrested because doctors had told her that she needed to have a cesarean section to protect the life of the babies. She refused, and as a result was charged with one first-degree felony count of criminal homicide.

Helping someone, even your daughter, can also lead to prosecution and jail time. A mother went to jail in 2014 for ordering her daughter abortion pills online. Had she been prescribed them, it would have been perfectly legal. But the closest clinic was 75 miles away, and the the same abortion with a prescription and doctor's visit would have cost between $300 and $600 and required two trips.

These cases and more show that what Trump proposes is dangerous. Not because of what could happen if such a law were passed, but because of what we already see across the country when pregnancies end and law enforcement finds a way to blame it on the mother.