a bird and a bottle

Autonomy, Abortion, and Isolation: Overdue Thoughts on Amber Abreu
February 13, 2007, 7:08 am
Filed under: criminal justice, feminism/s & gender, law, news, reproductive justice

I am sure many of you have been following the case of Amber Abreu, the young Dominican woman living in Boston who tried to self-induce a miscarriage since it hit the news a few weeks ago.

Just in case, here’s a quick rundown of the facts: Ms. Abreu, who is 19 and a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was in her 23rd-25th week of pregnancy when she tried to induce an abortion by taking misoprostol, one of the two ulcer drugs often used in medical (i.e. non surgical) abortions. She gave birth to a live but very small baby, who died four days later. After Abreu left the hospital, a social worker alerted police that the baby had traces of misoprostol in its urine and that Abreu had told contradictory stories about how much of the drug she had taken.

Soon after, with prosecutors relying on an old and rarely-invoked law, Abreu was charged with unlawfully procuring a miscarriage. Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks in Massachusetts; if it is determined from the baby’s autopsy that Abreu was in her 25th week of pregnancy, prosecutors may charge her with murder as well. An article up today at Women’s eNews notes that these charges could carry not only a heavy prison sentence but also the threat of deportation:

As of now, the teen faces the charge of procuring an illegal miscarriage–which carries a maximum sentence of seven years–based on a relatively obscure 1840s statute. Possible homicide charges mean the teen could face an even higher maximum sentence of life in prison if she is found to have acted with malice aforethought or premeditation. The teen’s legal status hinges on the outcome of an autopsy that will determine the length of her pregnancy.

There’s a lot going on here and it raises issues of immigrants’ rights in addition to reproductive rights and reproductive justice. But I think what Ms. Abreu’s predicament brings into extremely sharp focus is the fallacy of choice.

For many women, the right to “choose” is not so much a choice. Among poor and immigrant women like Abreu, who are isolated socioeconomically and linguistically (she has limited English skills), abortion clinics can be inaccessible. Abortions are expensive and in many states are not covered by Medicaid, thanks to the Hyde Amendment and its subsequent litigation. Even if a woman lives in a state that provides public funding for abortions, undocumented immigrant women are often ineligible for that state support. So women like Amber Abreu turn to alternative methods: DIY abortions through pills or other means.

As Abortion Access Project founder Susan Yanow told Women’s eNews:

“This is a travesty on every level,” says Yanow. “When we don’t provide access, people are left to make decisions as best they can, which may not be congruent with best health practices.”

This is nothing new — women have been self aborting for hundreds if not thousands of years, both before and after Roe. The legalization of abortion provided the veneer that women will no longer have to resort to unregulated abortion practices. But given all the restrictions on abortion, the scarcity of clinics, and the procedure’s expense, it is only a veneer. (For more on the failings of “choice,” read Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers. I’m reading it right now. It’s amazing.)

So when we talk about abortion rights and about women’s autonomy, we need to think broadly. Because it’s not just about Roe. It’s about making sure that Roe is not an empty promise.


4 Comments so far
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The way I see it is if women want the right to have control their bodies, then they should take control before pregnancy occures.
That is the other choice that we don’t hear enough about.

People should be able to choose to use birth control, to avoid having to make another choice.

Comment by Bruce

I think we all agree that access to birth control is a good thing in that it can allow women to be proactive. But birth control will not eradicate the need for abortion. And abortion needs to be available so that a woman can take action if she so desires.

Comment by bean

[…] & gender, blogsturbation, criminal justice, civil rights, politics, sexuality, news For the second time in recent months, a young woman is being charged with the crime of self-induced abortion, or attempt […]

Pingback by a bird and a bottle

The extremist of the Catholic Church want to impose thier morality on everone else. If people like Bruce don’t want women seeking abortions than they should be the ones to bear children. From now on Bruce control that male body of yours and live like a monk! The rest of us who on average will have 8 1/2 sexual partners in a life time want to have some fun before we die. You Bruce will get pie in the sky when you die!

Comment by Kim O'Connor

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