The Outrageous Reason This Woman Is Facing Felony Charges

Photo: Courtesy of Rutherford County Sheriffu2019s Office.
Update: This week Anna Yocca pleaded guilty to attempted procurement of a miscarriage, a class E felony, in exchange for being immediately released from jail. Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), said in a press release, “This plea deal should not be understood as validation of arresting and punishing pregnant women who have or try to have abortions but rather a frightening example of how the criminal law system can be used to bully and punish pregnant women and mothers — with or without a conviction or valid law.”
This article was originally published on November 18, 2016.

Lauren Rankin is a New York-based writer and reproductive rights activist. Opinions expressed here are her own.
Anna Yocca, a 32-year-old Tennessee woman, has already served nearly one year in jail. Initially charged with attempted first-degree murder, the charge against her was eventually reduced to aggravated assault. Her crime? She attempted to give herself an abortion with a coat hanger. After Yocca began to bleed uncontrollably, her boyfriend drove her to the emergency room. Physicians delivered a 1.5-pound boy, who survived. Yocca and her boyfriend went to the hospital seeking care in a moment of crisis; they were met with police questioning and criminal charges. She is now facing a new set of charges, including three felonies: aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage, and attempted criminal abortion. "Anna Yocca tried to end her pregnancy because she felt she had no other option, and her boyfriend helped her seek medical attention out of concern for her life,” Jessica González-Rojas, Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “Nothing in this heartbreaking story gives cause for prosecution. No woman should fear arrest or jail time because she ends her pregnancy or seeks medical help in this situation. Instead, we should ensure that however a woman decides to end her pregnancy, she is able to do so safely and effectively.” Yocca's case is part of a disturbing new trend, burgeoning in Tennessee, where feticide laws (which recognize fetuses as persons and were initially passed to protect pregnant women from violence) have increasingly been used against the women they were designed to protect. While abortion is legal, it has become increasingly difficult to access. Abortion restrictions have been piling up for the last six years, and until the Supreme Court intervened in June, clinics were closing at an astounding rate. As a result, many women have turned to other methods in order to terminate their pregnancies. When access to safe care is cut off, women will find a way to have an abortion.
Unfortunately, this leaves women, particularly women of color and other marginalized women, particularly vulnerable to criminal prosecution — and it’s already happening. In Indiana, the home state of the deeply anti-abortion Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, two women faced unprecedented criminalization for their pregnancy outcomes: Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai. Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after she miscarried, possibly from taking abortion-inducing pills. Though her conviction was recently overturned and she was ordered to be released from prison, Patel is the first woman to be convicted and sentenced on a feticide charge. Shuai, a Chinese immigrant, was charged with murder and attempted feticide in 2011 for ingesting rat poison while she was pregnant. She, like Patel, was turned over to police after she was taken to the hospital and consented to life-saving treatment. She ultimately accepted a plea deal.

When access to safe care is cut off, women will find a way to have an abortion.

Last year in Georgia, Kenlissia Jones, a 23-year-old black woman who tried to end her pregnancy with abortion pills purchased online, was arrested and charged with malice murder, a charge that brought a potential death-penalty sentence. Ultimately, the murder charge against her was dropped after a public outcry. The trend of criminalization is disturbing not only for the fact that abortion is a legal procedure, but also because it pits health-care providers against the patients for whom they are supposed to be caring. Shuai, Jones, and Yocca all sought necessary care, and they were met with criminal charges. As restrictions on what abortion providers can say and do have increased — some forcing providers to outright lie to their patients about abortion safety — women seeking abortion care, or even dealing with miscarriages, are left wondering if they can trust the people who are supposed to provide them the life-saving services they need. It is imperative that we remember that abortion is not a crime. Miscarrying a pregnancy is not a crime. What Anna Yocca did is not a crime. The real crime is how we have allowed abortion to become so inaccessible, so stigmatized, that women like Yocca feel like they have nowhere to turn. In the coming four years, facing an administration that is likely to be deeply hostile to reproductive freedom and women’s basic humanity, abortions will almost certainly become even harder to access. More women like Yocca will be targeted, criminalized, and victimized by a system that often treats bodily autonomy as inherently criminal. Laws that were intended to safeguard pregnant women against violence will increasingly be wielded as a tool for prosecuting them. If you think that women like Yocca deserve support and care rather than shame and criminalization, now is the time to take action. Learn how you can get involved in the fight to defend reproductive rights here.

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series