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Woman Faces Three Felony Charges for Attempted Coat Hanger Abortion

In 2015, Anna Yocca tried to self-induce an abortion with a coat hanger. After spending nearly a year in jail, she's scheduled to be arraigned today—and activists say her case illuminates the dangerous reality for women living in states with harsh...

Kimberly Lawson

Kimberly Lawson

In September of 2015, Anna Yocca, a 32-year-old woman living in Tennessee, sat in a water-filled bathtub and forced a coat hanger into her womb in an attempt to end her 24-week pregnancy. When she started bleeding uncontrollably, her boyfriend took her to the hospital, where she delivered an injured, but live, premature boy. (He's since been adopted.) Today, she's scheduled to be arraigned on three separate felony charges, according to court records.

Yocca, who's been in jail on a $200,000 bond since December, was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder, but her attorney Gerald Melton successfully argued that state law didn't apply to her case. According to local media, Melton filed to dismiss the case, stating in a motion that prosecuting Yocca's self-induced abortion as attempted murder "makes every pregnant woman vulnerable to arrest and prosecution if she is perceived to have caused or even risked harm to a human embryo or fetus... and that the prosecution is absurd, illogical and unconstitutional."

Read more: The New Reality: Women Charged with Murder After Self-Inducing Abortion

Earlier this month, a grand jury instead indicted Yocca on new felony charges of aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage, and attempted criminal abortion.

Cherisse Scott, the founder of the reproductive justice nonprofit SisterReach in Memphis, says that Yocca's case shows the desperate ends women will go to in order to end unwanted pregnancies when they can't access safe and legal abortion services. "The fact that we're even having a conversation about a woman trying to terminate a pregnancy is still a big deal," she tells Broadly.

According to Scott, Yocca's case is a glimpse of what's to be expected in Tennessee if legislators continue to restrict access to safe and legal abortion, leaving women with fewer options for reproductive health care. Last year, legislators passed a 48-hour abortion waiting period law requiring women seeking abortion procedures to go to the clinic for a mandatory in-person counseling session before returning home for 48 hours to reflect on their choice. Legislators also placed harsher regulations on clinics, which could have forced at least two to close their doors. Both measures ultimately make it harder for women to obtain an abortion.

What's particularly concerning for Scott and other women's rights advocates is what could happen in the state's next legislative session. Two years ago, 53 percent of voters supported an amendment that neutralized language regarding abortion in the state constitution. The legislation, known as Amendment One, stated, in part, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."

Since it was passed, Amendment One has been challenged in federal and state courts over the way the votes were counted. But if the courts uphold the vote, Scott says the amendment could lay the groundwork for Tennessee women to lose the right to legal abortion if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned—a real possibility with President-elect Trump's promise to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court.

"We're definitely in a far more volatile space now than we ever have been before," Scott says. "We are turning the clock back to the 70s, where women—in particular black women and poor women—were using hangers in order to terminate a pregnancy."