Pro-choice protesters, circa 1973.
In December of 2010, Jennie Linn McCormack discovered she was pregnant. In her mid-thirties, unmarried, unemployed, and with three children already, continuing the pregnancy seemed overwhelming, if not impossible.
McCormack lives in Idaho, where abortions are not so accessible as they are for those of us who live in less conservative states; only two abortion clinics exist in the state, both of them hours distant from McCormack, who had no transportation to get there anyway, and no money with which to pay for the procedure even if she did.
And so McCormack turned to her sister, living in Mississippi, for help. Her sister ordered abortion pills online, and mailed them to Idaho, where McCormack, who believed herself to be about 14 weeks pregnant at the time, took them, and successfully induced an abortion in January 2011.
McCormack eventually took them out to her back porch, where the remains of her fetus were on the barbecue, wrapped up in a plastic bag and a cardboard box.
“My baby is in the box,” McCormack said. Officers uncovered the frozen remains of a 5-month-old fetus and erected crime scene tape around the porch before taking her to the police station and charging her with a felony.
It is of particular interest that the help McCormack sought to end her pregnancy should have come from Mississipppi, where a law set to go into effect on July 1 may well close the state’s only remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The law in question requires that abortion providers in the state have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and while the doctors at Mississippi’s last clinic -- many of whom travel to the clinic from out of state -- have applied for them, they are not expected to be approved by the July 1 deadline.
This result led one state rep to proudly proclaim back in May that their work had “literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi.”
If abortion becomes unavailable in Mississippi come July, it will be the only state without at least one abortion clinic. Once you look at the specific demographics of abortion in MS, the picture gets even bleaker:
Mississippi is also the poorest state in the country and has the highest birth rate among teenagers, and the second-highest infant mortality rate, according to statistics compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. More than half of births here occur out of wedlock. Of the 2,297 women who had abortions in Mississippi in 2010, according to the State Department of Health, most were unmarried, most already had at least one child and more than three-quarters were black.
Certainly, you can see why the state would want to encourage more women to carry their fetuses to term, whether they are prepared to raise them or not. No wait, this makes no sense at all.
Back in Idaho, the criminal charges against Jennie Linn McCormack were ultimately dropped owing to a lack of firm evidence proving she had aborted the fetus illegally; the police turned up at her house as a result of a tip, allegedly from the sister of a friend, informing them of what she’d planned to do. The statute she was charged under is a 1972 law requiring all abortions in the state to be performed by a physician, and in light of more recent technology has been interpreted to mean that even medical abortion must be prescribed by a doctor.
Since then, Idaho has also passed a so-called “fetal pain” law, which places even more strict limits on abortions past 19 weeks, based on the nebulous idea that it is after that point that fetuses are capable of feeling pain. (Why abortion is only OK if it doesn’t “hurt” the fetus is beyond me, given the end result is the same whether it hurts or not.)
Following McCormack’s ordeal, a civil suit has been filed -- which will be heard by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 9 -- to challenge the original law that prevents women in Idaho from ordering abortion pills online, especially in light of the lack of local abortion providers in a fairly large and rural state.
McCormack would have benefited from a doctor’s assessment, there’s little argument there. A doctor probably could have told her she was too far along for a medical abortion, but abortions later in pregnancy can run into thousands of dollars, which would have put that option well out of McCormack’s reach anyway.
Of course, this is the unavoidable result of increased abortion restrictions; while Roe v. Wade may never be overturned, so long as abortion access is made impossible women will continue to take matters into their own hands, as they always have. McCormack had a terrible experience -- I can only imagine the shock of discovering post-abortion that you were far more pregnant than you realized, and then to be arrested on top of that -- but ostensibly she took this course because she felt she had no other options available to her.
When it comes to abortion access, at this time the majority of women in the United States have more in common with McCormack than they do with those of us who can rely on a funded and safe Planned Parenthood a few miles away, capable of dispensing both abortions, when necessary, and affordable birth control, to avoid the need for many of those abortions in the first place. As restrictions increase, desperate women attempting unsafe and unsupervised procedures on themselves will inevitably die or else be forced into having children they cannot care for.
But unless something changes soon, this is the future of abortion. And it’s terrifying.