October 30, 2023
By If/When/How

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—Since 2020, at least 11 people have been criminalized for their alleged self-managed abortion or for supporting someone with one, a majority of which happened post-Roe. A new report from If/When/How, analyzing the recent history of this criminalization, shows how people can interrupt and stop abortion criminalization.

If/When/How, who provides support and direct services to people experiencing state violence during pregnancy, abortion, or birth, released a new report that builds upon previously shared preliminary findings. The report details the criminalization of 61 cases of people being criminally investigated or arrested for allegedly ending their own pregnancy or helping someone else do so. The report explores cases between 2000 and 2020 that occurred across 26 states with the greatest concentration in Texas, followed by Ohio, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

The report hopes to reduce the criminalization of self-managed abortion in the absence of Roe by examining and identifying trends in the criminalization that occurred in the presence of its protections. 

Some key findings include: 

    • This research finds that abortion medication–which is now used in over half of abortions in the United States–was the most commonly used method among people who were criminalized for self-managing their abortion. 
    • Among adult cases, once police were contacted and became involved, 87% led to an arrest. Police were most often contacted and brought into the case by trusted individuals, such as healthcare providers, social workers, or acquaintances. 
    • Criminalization falls into predictable patterns that people can interrupt. For example, no law currently requires care providers to contact police about a self-managed abortion. By not contacting police, healthcare providers and social workers could dramatically reduce abortion criminalization. 
    • 30% of the known parents temporarily or permanently lost custody of their children in conjunction with a criminal intervention relating to allegations of self-managed abortion.
    • Of the adults who were criminally charged for allegedly self-managing their own abortion, a majority of cases proceeded under laws never intended or allowed to be used for self-managed abortion. 
    • Of the adult cases that proceeded through the criminal legal system, 45% ended in a guilty plea. 

The report includes stories that show how people’s anti-aborton stigma fuels criminalization, and how police and prosecutors twist the law to punish people for their self-determination. 

With access to safe and effective medication abortion, the biggest threat to someone ending their own pregnancy is facing criminal charges. It’s essential that as abortion comes under greater state surveillance and control that people who need abortions, those who support them, the media, lawmakers, and advocates understand the reality of abortion criminalization so we can ensure that people can get the care they need without threat of criminalization,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, co-author of Self-Care Criminalized and Senior Counsel & Legal Director at If/When/How. 

“My hope is that this research clearly shows that our punitive legal systems should have no role in people’s health care and self-determination,” said Laura Huss, co-author of Self-Care Criminalized and Senior Researcher at If/When/How. “Until that future is actualized, this research is a key resource for abortion seekers and the many people who support them to understand and avoid the threats of criminalization that exist due to the oppression of our laws and abortion stigma.”