Opponents and supporters of abortion argue over the prosecution of women

On the second Wednesday in January, Bradley Pierce received a text from a friend. link to an article with the headline, “Alabama women can be prosecuted for taking abortion pills, AG says.”

The cited piece an article from AL.com quoting Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. In a statement, Marshall said a pro-life state law that protects babies from abortion upon conception exempts women who undergo surgical abortions from liability. But then he added: “It does not provide a blanket exemption from all criminal laws, including dangerous chemical law, which the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed protects unborn children.”

A previous article of 1819 News posted the same quote, fueling speculation that the state attorney general was prepared to prosecute women for drug-induced abortions just as the Biden administration took steps to expand the availability of the drug.

But Pierce, who is the president of the Foundation to Abolish Abortion, was not convinced.

“I immediately knew that’s not the case,” he said. “I was waiting for the shoe to drop and for him to issue a clarification.”

The next day Marshall clarified to other media that women cannot be prosecuted for taking abortion pills, citing a state law which exempts the mother from prosecution in abortion cases. She said pregnant mothers can only be prosecuted under the chemical hazard law if they use other illegal drugs that harm the fetus.

In an email to WORLD, Marshall’s office simply said, “AL.com’s headline is inaccurate” and provided no further comment. Pierce’s friend texted him again, basically saying it doesn’t matter.

But the headlines still sparked debates among pro-life and pro-abortion groups about the role penalties for mothers of aborted babies will play in advancing abortion legislation, especially as home chemical abortions continue to become the rule. Major pro-life groups denounce the prosecution of women, while the self-styled abolitionist movement calls for such laws necessary to end abortion. Even pro-abortion groups say that the penalties for mothers are a logical result of the anti-abortion position.

Pierce knows from experience that the mainstream pro-life movement is not interested in penalizing mothers. He lobbies for laws that make abortion a homicide. Under this approach, all parties to an abortion, including the mother of the aborted child, would face penalties.

Last spring, a Louisiana legislative committee voted to advance an abolitionist bill Pierce wrote. Since 2016, lawmakers in 13 states have introduced abolitionist bills, but Louisiana’s was the first to come out of committee.

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On the day lawmakers planned to debate the bill, a coalition of more than 70 pro-life leaders published an open letter to state legislators stating “unequivocally that we do not support any measure that seeks to criminalize or punish women.” They explained that “women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support,” and then added that “turning women who abort into criminals is not the way.”

The bill’s sponsor withdrew it from debate. Legislation died.

After the Alabama attorney general’s statement, major pro-life groups doubled down on that position. “The pro-life movement is focused on holding the abortion industry accountable for taking the lives of millions of babies, not on prosecuting mothers,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Pro-Life America of Susan B. Anthony, in a declaration of January 12.

When WORLD contacted Alabama Right to Life, a state affiliate of National Right to Life, the organization provided a link to the spring 2022 open letter condemning the sanctions for mothers, signed by board director Cheryl Lewis.

Despite the clarification from pro-life groups, abortion advocates complained. Erin Matson, executive director of the pro-abortion group Reproaction, wrote a letter to the editor who ran in the washington post on January 16. “The logical consequence of banning abortion is to send people to jail,” he said, directing readers to YouTube videos of lawmakers and pro-life activists voicing support for criminalizing women who abort their babies. To be born.

Pro-abortion groups hope to prosecute the women as drug-induced abortion becomes more widely available. According to the latest data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, chemical abortions already represented 53 percent of all abortions by 2020. The Biden administration has since relaxed restrictions on the abortion pill, including removing the requirement that providers deliver the drugs to women in person, allowing mail delivery of the drug, and certifying pharmacies to fill prescriptions for abortion pills.

A few days after Marshall’s statements, MSNBC aired an interview live with Director of Operations Robin Marty at the former West Alabama Women’s Center abortion facility. She said the increased availability of abortion pills has allowed people “to be able to manage their own abortion without any kind of medical intervention, any kind of assistance… without anyone knowing.” This “is terrifying for legislators,” she said, “because they’ve come by and said, okay, we’re never going to punish the person who was getting the abortion. But once you eliminate everyone else, there is no one to punish.”

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The Biden administration also sees the loophole in the states’ existing protections for unborn babies. The Justice Department recently reinterpreted federal law to allow the US Postal Service to dispense abortion pills even in states that protect all unborn babies from abortion. In a memo, the department reasoned that comstock lawwhich makes shipping abortion drugs illegal, only prohibits it if the sender knows the recipient will use them for “illegal” abortions.

“Some states that regulate the conduct of certain actors involved in abortions do not make it illegal for the woman herself to abort her pregnancy,” read the note. In these scenarios, federal law “may not prohibit the mailing of [abortion pills] to a woman in a state with abortion restrictions, even if the sender intends for the woman to use the drugs to produce an abortion.”

But in Pierce’s mind, the department would have made excuses for sending abortion pills through the mail regardless of state law.

“The free market is ahead of the government,” Pierce said. She pointed to pro-abortion websites that help women circumvent state laws, often with links to online pharmacies not regulated by the FDA. She also advises women in states that ban abortions by mail to set up mail forwarding through an address in a pro-abortion state. That way they can receive the pills without the sender knowing that they are violating the laws of another state. After the overturn of Roe vs. Wade in June, mentions of this mail forwarding strategy appeared in The New York Times, the atlanticand other leading publications.

“In some ways, all of this is moot,” Pierce said. Now that every home can be an abortion center, he said, unless the law treats abortion as murder, “we’re dealing with the method instead of dealing with the actual conduct of what’s actually going on, and that’s causing intentionally killing a human being.” She called it more endearing to teach women through the law that it is wrong to kill unborn children. “Our laws are telling these mothers that it’s okay,” she said. “That’s not it’s love. That’s not loving at all.”

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But the main pro-life groups say that passing laws that would allow women to face prosecution for their own abortions is not the solution to the legal solutions of pro-abortion groups.

“We see women as the second victim,” said Laura Echevarria, communications director for the National Right to Life. She expressed concern that the introduction of women’s penalties would encourage women to hide their abortions even if they faced life-threatening complications. “The danger is very real for the woman. And so we want them to feel comfortable stepping up. If there is a problem, we want you to go to the emergency room. If someone starts to dismiss the idea of ​​prosecuting women, that defeats that purpose and puts her in even greater danger.”

Instead, national pro-life organizations are encouraging states to improve enforcement of existing laws while proposing new legislation that targets the abortion pill industry, not mothers. The pro-life group Students for Life Action has helped draft bills banning the manufacture, prescription or sale of abortion drugs or banning the distribution of pills by mail. At least one piece of legislation it would penalize drug makers who fail to instruct women on how to properly dispose of their aborted babies in medical waste bags.

These bills exempt mothers of unborn children from criminal liability and instead focus on cutting off the supply of abortion services. Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said some pregnant mothers will still find ways to obtain abortion medications. But pro-life resources like pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and education about what abortion does can help lessen that demand.

That strong opposition from mainstream pro-life groups means abolitionist bills are unlikely to win majority support in pro-life states. But the debate is not likely to end anytime soon. As lawmakers enter another legislative session, Pierce said his Foundation to Abolish Abortion has seen increased interest in abolitionist bills. “I think people are seeing that it’s the consistent way to deal with this and it’s really the only way to abolish abortion,” he said.

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