Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"Many people would love to see an end to abortion, but a majority of even those people don't want to see women locked up in prison." (Photo: Sean Hobson/flickr/cc)

Tennessee Self-Abortion Arrest Highlights Dangers of War on Women

'The Tennessee legislature is responsible for the coat hanger, however, Ms. Yocca is on trial and that is unacceptable.'

Deirdre Fulton

A Tennessee woman is facing an indictment for first-degree attempted murder after she tried to self-abort, offering a stark illustration of how restrictions on reproductive healthcare and criminalization of abortion can impact individuals in the United States.

According to Tennessee's Daily News Journal, 31-year-old Anna Yocca was arrested last week and is accused of using a coat hanger in an attempt to end her pregnancy in September. She was 24 weeks into gestation. The Murfreesboro Post adds that Yocca was booked into jail on a $200,000 bond.

Anna Yocca (Murfreesboro Police Department)

Detective Tommy Roberts charged that Yocca filled a bathtub with water, "took a coat hanger and attempted to self-abort her pregnancy." Because of the amount of blood, she "became concerned about her safety" and her boyfriend took her to Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital. Yocca was then transported to Saint Thomas Midtown in Nashville where medical professionals were able to save the fetus, which weighed 1.5 pounds.

Fetal homicide is a crime in 38 states, including Tennessee.

The Washington Post reports:

In 2012, the state passed legislation expanding the definition of “another person” to include fetuses at all stages of development, making it one of 23 states with such a broad definition. People could now be prosecuted for harm done to a fetus or embryo.

The law exempts only pregnant women who undergo a “lawful medical or surgical procedure” performed by a licensed medical professional — in other words, a legal abortion.

However, access to legal abortion is already severely restricted in Tennessee. Not only is abortion illegal in the state after 12 weeks, but a bill signed in May requires women make two trips to a clinic, 48 hours apart, before they can undergo the procedure.

In addition, the use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion is prohibited, the parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided, and public funding is available only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. The National Women's Law Center gives Tennessee an "F" grade when it comes to healthcare access; and the Guttmacher Institute says that as of 2011, 63 percent of Tennessee women lived in counties without an abortion clinic. 

Such restrictive and punitive polices lead to "acts of desperation" like Yocca's, said Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, a reproductive justice organization based in Memphis. 

"The Tennessee legislature is responsible for the coat hanger," Scott said on Monday, "however, Ms. Yocca is on trial and that is unacceptable."

Scott added: "These acts of desperation will happen more frequently unless the Tennessee legislature reconsiders its posture about both current and potential anti-abortion legislation and the fetal assault law which allows a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for fetal harm."

Indeed, a study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project published earlier this year after a draconian anti-abortion law resulted in the closure of about 20 clinics in the state, found that at least 100,000 Texas women have attempted a self-induced abortion.

It warned: "[W]e suspect that abortion self-induction will increase as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access."

This conclusion supported a separate analysis from the Guttmacher Institute in September, which outlined how the surge in state abortion restrictions could lead to self-induced abortion becoming a "more common phenomenon." 

"The impact of restrictions on abortion services falls hardest upon low-income women," said Andrea Rowan, author of the Guttmacher analysis. "Some women want to terminate their pregnancies but live in hostile geographic areas and have limited resources and support. They are left with no practical options other than to self-induce, which in turn may put them at risk of prosecution. This situation is all too familiar in some countries where abortion is highly restricted."

Earlier this year, Purvi Patel was sentenced by an Indiana court to 20 years in prison for the crime of feticide. Calling the ruling "traumatic and frightening," National Advocates for Pregnant Women executive director Lynn Paltrow said at the time: "Many people would love to see an end to abortion, but a majority of even those people don't want to see women locked up in prison."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'We Will Vote This Dirty Deal Down,' Tlaib Says of Manchin's Oil-Friendly Side Agreement

"We sure as hell don't owe Joe Manchin anything now," said the Michigan progressive.

Jake Johnson ·

Dr. Oz Derided Over Ad Attacking Fetterman's Support for 'Free Healthcare'

"What's radical," responded a top aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, "is 338,000 Americans dying during the pandemic because they could not afford for-profit healthcare."

Jake Johnson ·

Despite Housing Crisis, Mississippi May Return Up to Millions in Federal Rent Aid to DC

"For them to suggest people like me aren't working? It's a slap in the face," said one woman affected by the end of the pandemic assistance program. "It's very insulting and degrading."

Brett Wilkins ·

80% of US Voters Across Party Lines Support Expanding Social Security

"With Republicans threatening to cut benefits—and worse, eliminate the program entirely—Dems need to make clear they're fighting to protect and expand benefits."

Jessica Corbett ·

Rich Nations Again Accused of Vaccine Hoarding as UK OKs Moderna Omicron Booster

"While countries like the U.K. buy updated vaccines for their fourth doses, people in low- and middle-income countries are fighting today's variants with yesterday's vaccines."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo