Women Who Take Abortion Pills Could Face Criminal Charges, Alabama Attorney General Says
Alabama’s attorney general said he could prosecute women who take abortion pills, despite language in the state’s new abortion ban that ensures it won’t be used against people who receive abortions.
The Human Life Protection Act, which criminalizes abortion at any stage, is only meant to be used against abortion providers. It was signed into law in 2019 and took effect last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But an older law could still allow for the prosecution of women who terminate their pregnancies, said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
That state’s law against “chemical endangerment” of a child was originally passed to punish people who exposed children to meth labs. But it’s been used to prosecute numerous pregnant women accused of taking drugs, including marijuana alone. (The law was even recently used to arrest and jail a woman who wasn’t even pregnant after her young child wrongly told a social worker that she was.)
And Alabama’s Supreme Court has upheld the usage of the child endangerment law against pregnant women who take illegal drugs. Since abortion pills are now an illegal drug in Alabama, this would seem to fit.
“The Human Life Protection Act targets abortion providers, exempting women ‘upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed’ from liability under the law,” said Marshall in a statement to AL.com. “It does not provide an across-the-board exemption from all criminal laws, including the chemical-endangerment law—which the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed protects unborn children.”
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for retail pharmacies to dispense abortion-inducing drugs. CVS and Walgreens said they would do so; activists are already planning pickets for early February.
The FDA’s rule change doesn’t mean pharmacies in states with abortion bans can do so, of course. But it could make it easier for women in places where abortion is illegal to obtain the pills elsewhere.
In general, the discreet and easy-to-use nature of abortion via pill (as opposed to surgery) makes it much easier for women to evade anti-abortion laws. This has authorities in some states worried—and looking for ways to prevent residents from getting their hands on these pills and to hold people accountable when they do.
Knowing what we know about Alabama’s prosecutions of pregnant women already, Marshall’s statement doesn’t seem like an empty threat at all. And it’s likely we’ll see at least a few other states start to do the same.
Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, some states have prosecuted women who self-induce abortion or attempt to. Though the charges were later dropped, Texas last April jailed Lizelle Herrera for two days on murder charges after accusing her of a self-induced abortion when she miscarried. Georgia has done the same (though also dropping the charges eventually). And an Indiana woman, Purvi Patel, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after allegedly taking abortion pills that caused her to have a stillbirth.
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