The most horrifying thing I've seen in my generation. Abortion.

Wow. This is crazy. This is shit my grandmother had to face. Are we devolving? Is this what Iran looked like before the revolution?






In states across the country, women are being arrested for the crime of ending their own pregnancies—though they have a constitutional right to do so in a doctor’s office. Michelle Goldberg on a worrisome new trend.

Underground abortions have returned to the United States, just as pro-choice activists have warned for years. And women have started going to jail for the crime of ending their own pregnancies, or trying to.

Article - Goldberg AbortionsCultura / Corbis

This week Jennie L. McCormack, a 32-year-old mother of three from eastern Idaho, was arrested for self-inducing an abortion. According to the Associated Press, McCormack couldn’t afford a legal procedure, and so took pills that her sister had ordered online. For some reason, she kept the fetus, which police found after they were called by a disapproving acquaintance. She now faces up to five years in prison, as well as a $5,000 fine.

Idaho recently banned abortions after 20 weeks, and McCormack’s fetus was reportedly between five and six months old. But according to Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, under Idaho law, McCormack could have been arrested even if she’d been in her first trimester because self-induced abortion is illegal in all circumstances. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an 8- or 10- or 12-week abortion,” says Kolbi-Molinas. “If you do what you could get lawfully in a doctor’s office—what you have a constitutional right to access in a doctor’s office—they can throw you in jail and make you a convicted felon.”

While horrific, McCormack’s case is not unique. In recent years, several women have been arrested on suspicion of causing their own abortions, or attempting to. Most have come from conservative rural states with few clinics and numerous restrictions on abortion. In America’s urban centers and liberal enclaves, the idea of women being prosecuted for taking desperate measures to end their pregnancies might seem inconceivable, a never-again remnant of the era before Roe v. Wade. In fact, it’s a slowly encroaching reality.  

Even more, these cases demonstrate that criminalizing abortion means turning women who have abortions into criminals.

In 2005, Gabriela Flores, a 22-year-old Mexican migrant worker, was arrested in South Carolina. Like McCormack, she had three children and said she couldn’t afford a fourth, and so she turned to clandestinely acquired pills. (The drug she took, Misoprostol, is an ulcer medicine that also works as an abortifacient and is widely used in Latin American countries where abortion is illegal.) Initially facing two years in prison, she ended up being sentenced to 90 days.

In 2009, a 17-year-old Utah girl known in court filings as J.M.S. found herself pregnant by an older man who is now facing charges of using her in child pornography. J.M.S. lived in house without electricity or running water in a remote part of the state, several hours’ drive from the nearest clinic, which was in Salt Lake City. Getting there would have required not just a car—her area had no public transportation—but money for a hotel in order to comply with Utah’s 24-hour-waiting period, as well as for the cost of the abortion itself.

According to prosecutors, when J.M.S. was in her third trimester, she paid a man $150 to beat her in the hopes of inducing a miscarriage. The fetus survived, but she was charged with criminal solicitation to commit murder. When her case was thrown out on the grounds that her actions weren’t illegal under the state’s definition of abortion, legislators changed the law so they would be able to punish women like her in the future. Meanwhile, prosecutors have appealed J.M.S.’ case to the Supreme Court, and observers expect it to rule against her. She could still face a trial and prison time.

A woman doesn’t even have to be trying to abort to find herself under arrest. Last year, a pregnant 22-year-old in Iowa named Christine Taylor ended up in the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. A mother of two, she told a nurse she’d tripped after an upsetting phone conversation with her estranged husband. Though she’d gone to the hospital to make sure her fetus was OK, she confessed that she’d been ambivalent about the pregnancy and unsure whether she was ready to become a single mother of three.

Suspecting Taylor had hurled herself down the stairs on purpose, the nurse called a doctor, and at some point the police were brought in. Taylor was arrested on charges of attempted feticide. She spent two days in jail before the charges were dropped because she was in her second trimester, and Iowa’s feticide laws don’t kick in until the third.

These cases are a harbinger of what’s to come as abortion laws become increasingly strict and abortion clinics harder to access in the more conservative parts of the country. They demonstrate the lengths to which women will go to end unwanted pregnancies. But even more, they demonstrate that criminalizing abortion means turning women who have abortions into criminals.

The antiabortion movement likes to see itself as pro-woman. Most of its spokespeople talk about protecting women from abortion, insisting they’re not interested in seeing them punished. “It’s tragic that this young woman felt that this was her only way out,” National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said in a statement in response to questions about the McCormack case. “The pro-life movement has never supported jail sentences for women who are victims of the abortion culture and abortion industry.”

Tobias said her group calls on Idaho officials “to engage in more publicity about the network of pregnancy resource centers and about the existence of Idaho’s safe haven law—either of which would have helped this young mother and saved her child.” But she didn’t call on them to release McCormack or to change the laws under which she’s being charged. If these sorts of prosecutions aren’t what the antiabortion movement had in mind when it pushed wave after wave of state-level legislation, now might be a good time to speak up.

Michelle Goldberg is a senior contributing writer for The Daily Beast/Newsweek. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World, winner of the 2008 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award and the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. Goldberg's work has appeared in Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Nation, New York magazine, The Guardian, and The New Republic. Her third book, about the world-traveling adventuress, actress and yoga evangelist Indra Devi, will be published by Knopf in 2012.

Views: 156

Comment by Steve on June 4, 2011 at 2:53pm

Why is anyone surprised? Abortions always existed in some form. It's silly to assume that they will go away when outlawed. The severe regression America is undergoing will just lead to more medical complications and deaths.

Comment by Kirsten on June 4, 2011 at 4:38pm


   They don't care about either. They care about "the principal of the matter". If a person is seriously considering abortion, chances are there is a reason. Bringing a person into the world is a huge choice and should never be forced on anyone. And when people pursue these sorts of extreme measures there is usually something else going on, either with themselves or their family or community.


   You hears lots of the good stories about how women rise to the challenge under poor circumstances and are happy with their choice. You rarely hear the other side of the coin. There are LOTS of messed up kids running around with poor, broken families and poor communities at their backs who end up on the oft-kicked welfare many of these same pro-lifers hate so much. They're stuck being the scapegoat of society.


   Until we can be open about things like sex and reproductive rights as a nation we're going to be seeing a lot of bass ackwards things happening. And we really need to get more clinics into areas like this, and some for of transport to them set up. I can only dream that someday people will take birth control seriously and circumvent the issue.

Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on June 4, 2011 at 5:01pm

I am starting to believe it is because they honestly value a smudge of 'still developing tissue without thoughts, emotions know..recognizable body parts' more than they do that of a woman. Look at the people that are anti-choice. They aren't exactly the 'stand up and see women as equal partners in the human species' sort of crowd. In fact, the more anti-choice you are, the more 'let her die in childbed because that's how God wills it' sort you generally tend to be, too. I'm just saying, if it's a scale, guess what side goes where? So yeah. Seems pretty obvious to me that not valuing female life on the same scale as valuing male life is a huge part to play, just on cultural prevalence. (Which of course is influence by religious beliefs.)

Name me a culture that listens to it's religious leaders more than it does it's average citizen and I'll show you a culture that has the worst human rights abuses on the planet. 

One of those abuses simply manifest as anti-choice. 


Comment by Sassan K. on June 4, 2011 at 5:06pm
Iran before the revolution? Iran before the revolution was this:
Comment by AntiChristianLeague on June 4, 2011 at 6:58pm

While I am not at all surprised when reading the article, I am still absolutely disgusted. Our rights as human beings are circling the drain, and we all have fundamentalist christianity and short sighted idiocy to blame for it.



Comment by Karen Azimianaraki on June 4, 2011 at 9:49pm
When I turned 18, I used to escort girls into the clinics. Those anti-choice christians would do anything and everything to get these girls not to have the procedure. It would sicken me what they say. I have never seen one of those girls walk away from the clinic that is why the wackos are trying to go to the government to stop this medical procedure. Wait and see when girls start showing up in ERs with either an illegal or self administered abortion lets see what happens to regular peoples opinion,they will not stand for it just like when Roe v Wade became law. 99% of the procedure are done within the first 3 months,NOT A LIFE! It is not viable,these are cells. This topic is near and dear to my heart and I will fight for the rite of the person, not the group of cells.
Comment by Sassan K. on June 4, 2011 at 10:06pm
I am against Partial Life Abortion unless the mother's life is in harm. I think if you fail to get an abortion in the first trimester, then you shouldn't be able to abort out of convenience once it actually has formed into a baby (not like ignorant Christians - life at moment of conception).
Comment by Karen Azimianaraki on June 4, 2011 at 10:42pm
Sassan, as a man you will never have to CHOOSE! Most of the people that are making these laws are stupid ignorant "christian men" also the people that are going around killing the few doctors that still do the procedures are men. When you say you are against the P.L.A that takes away the womans rite to choose. Men will never become pregnant, so no man should have any say so. And the "convenience" factor would always come out of the mans mouth.
Comment by erik112358 on June 5, 2011 at 12:56am
Abort away, I say.  Too many people in the world as it is.  Of course it would be better to prevent the pregnancy in the first place, but I guess the concept is too complicated for some people.
Comment by Karen Azimianaraki on June 5, 2011 at 1:13am
Instead, lets get more men to be insisting on using condoms? Take that shower with a wet suit on. or whatever that complaint guys have not to wear them. I don't like abortions they do mess with the woman alot but I think the burden has been put on the girls long enough MAN UP! The hormones in the pill can cause so many health problems,plus lets not talk about the IUD, shit that thing can tear a womans uterus up and cause sterility. Sorry guys if this sounds anti men, I am not just for womens rites.


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