Back in October 2021, a woman was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina due to labour contractions. Once there, she told medical professionals that she had taken an abortion pill to terminate her pregnancy. She later gave birth to a stillborn foetus of 25 weeks and four days.
The 33-year-old woman was arrested this week under the state’s law that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and prohibits abortions without the presence of a physician or a certified hospital member set up during the second trimester.
Greenville Police Department Spokesperson Johnathan Bragg revealed that it was the hospital that notified the police about the incident—a clear warning of the country’s crackdown on women’s rights following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022. The floodgates on new punishments have officially been opened.
But this heartbreaking story is only the most recent one out of numerous cases around the country, most of which have not received any kind of media attention for obvious reasons. In April 2022, Texan woman Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder for allegedly inducing her abortion, despite the fact that prosecutors acknowledged that there was no legal basis for the charges at the time.
It was later on revealed that medical professionals treating Herrera at one of the state’s hospitals had reported her to law enforcement. The Starr County Sheriff’s Office charged her with murder for “intentionally and knowingly causing the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.”
The local district attorney eventually dropped the case against Herrera, only three months before the vote to overturn abortion rights in the country. Then, in August, a Nebraska woman was charged with helping her teenage daughter terminate her pregnancy at about 24 weeks after investigators uncovered Facebook messages in which the two discussed using medication to induce an abortion, as well as plans to burn the foetus afterwards. In other words, they felt the need to burn the ‘evidence’.
Following the controversial case making headlines, Facebook said it will fight back against requests that it thinks are invalid or too broad, but went on to add that it gave investigators information in about 88 per cent of the 59,996 times when the government requested data in the second half of 2021.
The end of Roe will only further increase policing authority over pregnant people’s lives and expand the US’ prison industrial complex. And it comes as the incarceration of women is already on the rise. According to The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy centre working for decarceration in the country, the number of women behind bars increased by more than 475 per cent between 1980 and 2020.
In prison, women face an increased chance of sexual and physical violence, as well as demeaning conditions, including the continued practice of shackling pregnant women during child birth and offering limited access to hygiene products.
Now that abortion is actually a crime in many states, it’s likely that jailing people for their pregnancy outcomes could go from an unusual event to a common occurrence. And, with institutions—both physical and online—actively filtering out abortion cases and flagging vulnerable pregnant people to the authorities, it’s feeling as though the US has officially begun a wide-scale witch-hunt.
In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), California-based obstetrician-gynaecologist (OB-GYN)—a doctor who specialises in women’s health—Doctor Meg Autry urged people to think creatively when it comes to bypassing the US’ recent and highly controversial overturn of Roe v. Wade. Her solution for anyone in the southern states of the country looking to get an abortion without risking getting fined? The creation of a floating abortion clinic in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Moving in federal waters would mean that the boat clinic is out of reach of state laws, which would in turn allow it to offer first trimester surgical abortions and contraception as well as other care. “There’s been an assault on reproductive rights in our country and I’m a lifelong advocate for reproductive health and choice. We have to create options and be thoughtful and creative to help people in restrictive states get the health care they deserve,” Doctor Autry told the AP.
Though only in its fledgling phase, the nonprofit Protecting Reproductive Rights Of Women Endangered by State Statutes (PRROWESS) is currently working to raise money to bring it to fruition. Doctor Autry also added that PRROWESS’ legal team believes there are many federal waters where licensed providers could safely and legally provide abortions out of reach of state laws.
For women located in southern states where the procedures are now illegal, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, going to the coast and boarding a boat may be closer and easier than trying to travel to a state where abortion remains legal, she explained.
“It would also benefit Floridians seeking abortions after their state decided to ban the procedure after 15 weeks unless the life of the parent is in danger,” Futurism added when covering the matter.
PRROWESS is still trying to work out many of the details such as where the boat will launch and how women would get to the ship in the first place. That being said, and as promising as the concept sounds, such floating abortion clinics might run into some issues—given that the Biden White House has rebuffed the idea of using federal lands (and potentially waters by extension) to provide abortions because, according to press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, “it could actually put women and providers at risk” of prosecution.