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Advocates seek to decriminalize self-induced abortion care

Advocates are working to decriminalize self-induced abortion care as women increasingly seek information about such care amid growing limits on abortion access in some areas of the country, Broadly reports.

Self-induced abortion

According to Broadly, self-induced abortion is becoming more common.

A study last year estimated that between 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 had tried to self-induce an abortion. In addition, a separate report released this summer called self-induced abortion via misoprostol -- one of two drugs used in medication abortion -- "the new 'best kept secret' in efforts to expand US women's access to reproductive health care options."

Jill Adams, chief strategist at the Self-Induced Abortion (SIA) Legal Team, said there are many reasons why women might seek to self-induce an abortion. Factors could include financial and geographical limitations, bad experiences with medical care in the past or feeling too intimidated to visit a clinic, particularly if there are antiabortion-rights protesters.

Legal risks

Despite the growing prevalence of self-induced abortion care, the process "comes with incredible legal risks," Broadly reports.

Some states explicitly ban such abortions. In South Carolina and New York, it is a misdemeanor to self-induce an abortion without a physician's advice.

In addition, according to experts, authorities are finding other ways to punish women who self-induce an abortion, even where the process is not explicitly criminalized. "Prosecutors are being very creative and egregious and taking criminal, civil, regulatory statutes and stretching them way beyond the letter of the law, way beyond their legislative intent, and applying them to situations of self-induced abortion," Adams said.

According to SIA, there have been at least 17 arrests tied to self-induced abortions. In those cases, charges have included fetal homicide, aggravated assault, battery and child neglect.

SIA seeks to facilitate, legalize self-induced abortion care

Discussing SIA's efforts to legalize and facilitate self-induced abortion care, Adams said, "Abortion is a very common experience," and given the diversity of people seeking abortion care, "it's really irrational to expect that there's a one-size-fits-all model to abortion care that's going to work for everyone."

According to Adams, SIA is "work[ing] toward a future in which everyone has legal and actual access to self-directed and provider-directed options, when they're choosing the setting, the method, the companion, and the timing of the abortion that's right for them." She explained that such access would include ensuring that a woman was aware of the safest method of medication abortion and who to contact in the unlikely event of a complication.

Toward those goals, SIA has been working to disseminate safe self-induced abortion care instructions, draft model legislation and provide support to lawyers representing those on trial for self-induced abortion care.

The group also said it was working to represent anyone facing legal consequences for self-inducing an abortion. "We're building the resources to be able to do that, because we suspect the need is going to increase significantly," Adams said, adding, "We think no one should have to fear arrest or jail for taking care of themselves, for ending their own pregnancies."

Further, noting that it is "very difficult to discern whether someone's had a prompted miscarriage or an unprompted miscarriage," Adams explained that letting officials "scrutinize the behavior, actions, and admissions of pregnant people because of the suspicion that they're acting in order to harm a pregnancy or induce a miscarriage" will not only result in the prosecution of "people who have acted intentionally to end a pregnancy, but ... all sorts of people who have simply suffered pregnancy losses."

Doula group offers comprehensive pregnancy and abortion support

Other groups also hope to improve access to safe self-induced abortion care, Broadly reports. For instance, Full Spectrum Doulas, an organization based in Seattle, since 2010 has offered support for individuals at any stage or outcome of a pregnancy.

According to Alison Ojanen-Goldsmith, a founding board member of Full Spectrum Doulas and a researcher on self-induced abortion, the organization's support includes informing women about all of their available options, providing transportation or child care and talking with women at any time following an abortion to aid in processing the experience.

In an interview, Ojanen-Goldsmith said she wants to "work towards demedicalizing healthy women's reproductive experiences, including birth, menstruation, abortion, and menopause. Women should be able to access (both physically and financially) medical interventions for these experiences if they want and need them, but the medical model should not represent the entirety of options for healthy women and their bodies."

She added, "The right of people to end their own pregnancies in their own ways -- it's a fundamental human right. [People] shouldn't be stigmatized for their decisions to do this." In particular, noting that her research found it was often "marginalized and vulnerable communities" seeking non-medicalized abortion care, Ojanen-Goldsmith said, "People want to, and should be able to access care within their communities" (Lawson, Broadly, 12/9).