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Another Woman Charged With “Self Abortion”

Another Woman Charged With “Self Abortion”

Yaribely Almonte, a 20-year-old mother of one, has been charge with the crime of “self-abortion” after a landlord found what is believed to be a 24 week old fetus in a garbage dumpster outside of her old apartment building.  According to multiple reports, Almonte stated that she had “taken an herbal tea before delivering the baby, who was stillborn.”

“Self-abortion” is a fairly rarely used charge that seems to be growing in popularity in the last year.  Idaho woman Jennie McCormack was accused of self-abortion after purchasing drugs to induce a miscarriage last December, a case which has now resulted in a lawsuit against the state’s restrictions on medical abortions.  And Bei Bei Shuai of Indiana is currently being held without bail, being charge with feticide after ingesting rat poison in a failed suicide attempt that inadvertently caused the premature delivery and death of her baby at 31 weeks.

It’s so far unclear whether Almonte took the tea intending to cause a miscarriage, if the act was accidental, or if the tea and the miscarriage were utterly unrelated events.  Yet that hasn’t stopped the New York police from charging her with a first degree crime because the fetus was 24 weeks old.

It is those unclear questions, which in many ways cannot be proven, that leads most “self-abortion” cases to just be dismissed, as the New York Times reports.  “The state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services said that since 1980, four other women had been charged with self-abortion in the first degree or in the second degree, a lesser charge that can apply when the attempt is not successful. Three of those cases, from Nassau County in 2006 and 2010 and from Monroe County in 2000, ended in dismissal.  A first-degree case in Wayne County in 2006 resulted in a sentence of conditional discharge, meaning the charge would be dismissed if the woman did not get into trouble again.”

Yet the actual pressing of charges against these women, and a push to keep them in jail, is dramatically increasing, a significant change since the past. According to WNYC,  “Legal experts say it’s likely prosecutors have simply declined to prosecute on this charge in many occasions over the decades.  ‘Prosecutors exercise a certain discretion in terms of whether to charge crimes like this because it usually arises out of some desperate circumstances,’ said Jim Cohen, a professor of criminal law at Fordham Law School.”

So why have prosecutors decided to suddenly start punishing these women to the fullest extent they can, even if they can’t be completely sure that each one even meant to abort or that charges might have to be dropped in the long run?  Simple.  To publicly shame the women who do find themselves so desperate that they take measures into their own hands, and to let it serve as a warning to others, especially low income and immigrant women, that if they try to do the same, they will be punished, too.

Anti-choice activists are often asked what punishment a woman should face for aborting a fetus, and they always respond that it should be the doctor, not the woman, who is jailed.  Perhaps that is finally changing, too.

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Photo by Olek Remesz via Wikimedia Commons

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12:25PM PST on Feb 14, 2012

Good article, Robin Marty. No easy answers, eh?

Until we've definitively defined personhood, a parasite does not have any more civil or legal rights than its host. If that woman decides not to carry the baby, it is her right to make that decision.

But I dread the coming 'personhood' conversation in congress. It will be nasty. As women, we can go ahead and roar, but I'm afraid religion will take over the debate and we'll be legislating morals in no time at all. I fear this.

11:03AM PST on Feb 14, 2012

We really need to get religion out of politics. We are backsliding into a way of thinking that is akin to the Middle East. Women, if you don't want to become a 2nd class citizen then we had better band together to make sure it doesn't happen.

7:49AM PST on Jan 4, 2012

There is an excellent chance that the woman did not even know what types of herbal teas are abortifacients or that they don't always work so it's useless to focus on that. And the fetus may have died which could have caused the miscarriage I'm far more concerned that the news has said landlord knew it was her that miscarried and knew when she put her "trash" in the dumpster. That sounds like the landlord was stalking her---why???

4:29AM PST on Dec 12, 2011

Thanks for the article.

5:56PM PST on Dec 11, 2011

So, don't you think the Plan B pill could have prevented this tragedy and so many others? No common sense in this country.

10:42AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

Why she waited so long if she didn't want the baby is beyond me.

11:40PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

BTW people, herbal abortion is not that much more dangerous than a clinical abortion, especially if you are in tune with your cycle, have access to herbs and are not stigmatized to using it. Those of you who are saying she deserved to be prosecuted are ignorant - a big reason why her situation was as messed up as it is is thanks to the ignorance and shame around female sexuality, and the lack of empowering of women through education and access to options. Herbal abortion can be just as safe as clinical with the right information and empowerment.

11:34PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

So a single mother aborts her child because she can barely care for the first one, and they throw her in jail. Where the hell is family values?

I have had three herbal abortions in my lifetime (though it was at 2-4 weeks each time), and by goddess, as women this is our right! This is women's wisdom, and women's bodies, and a woman's choice. I have found that I have avoided this case because I am so disgusted and feel so powerless that she is being jailed, and that she waited as long as she did because she probably did not know she had that option until late into her pregnancy because of the veil of silence and control over women;s sexuality and bodies that exist in this culture. It sickens me.

Shaming of women's sexuality needs to come to an end, and a support of our agency and rights needs to be upheld. Now.

10:26PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

@ Tracey, good point...WHY was the landlord digging through the trash?

2:03PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

What a sick society - we're no better than the worst of the middle east in certain areas of the US, between women's rights to their bodies and anyone who differs from the cookie cutter concept of their sick selves - one of the reasons I moved to NYC when I did - I can't stand the sick, suffering oppressive mentality of those who push people to such extremes - and then have the audacity to punish them! We need more tolerance and more birth control, as well as more education - about what is the woman's right as an individual in charge of her body! The only life worth having on this earth is the one who's truly wanted!

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well done Kevin,well done Lynx,thank you for sharing this lovely story

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