Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Idle Threat: Dangerously Outdated Abortion Laws Must Go

Rewire (May 30, 2017): No Idle Threat Dangerously Outdated Abortion Laws Must Go, by Farah Diaz-Tello and Clare Murphy:

In New York state, the legislature is considering a bill to remove abortion, including self-induced abortion, from the penal code. A proposal in the U.K. Parliament would change a 19th-century criminal law that allows prosecution of people who end their own pregnancies.

Why are advocates pushing for these reforms now?  Because antiquated criminal abortion laws remain on the books in both places and pose a danger that women can be prosecuted for having abortions.  In both New York and the U.K., when abortion was legalized, legislatures amended existing criminal abortion laws to create exceptions to the criminal provisions providing that abortion would be legal in certain circumstances.  The U.K. law requires that legal abortions be performed in hospitals and clinics, thus leaving women who choose to self-induce abortions outside of a clinical setting open to criminal prosecution.  Similarly, in New York, self-inducing an abortion is a crime. Both laws were "drafted at a time when no one could imagine safely and effectively ending a pregnancy with pills."  Today, women are increasingly obtaining pills online to induce medication abortion.  And in both New York and the U.K. women have been prosecuted for self-inducing abortion.

The experiences of people seeking abortions from the U.K. to New York teach us that access to affordable clinic-based abortion is critical, but is not enough to ensure that no one goes to jail for ending their own pregnancy. Nowadays, people may be pushed toward self-directed care by clinic closures and unnecessary restrictions, or pulled toward it by the private and personalized experience promised by abortion with pills.

The New York bill would move provisions regulating abortion from the Penal Code to the Health Code where they belong.

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