The American Bar Association has adopted a resolution against criminalization of people for self-managed abortion or for any pregnancy outcome — marking an historic move forward for efforts to decriminalize our reproductive lives. If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice sought this resolution from the nation’s largest and oldest organization of legal professionals because lawyers hold a particular responsibility to demand an end to the oppressive use of the criminal legal system to police and punish people’s reproductive decisions.

“This is an historic and critical step towards dismantling a system that sought to control our reproductive lives through baseless criminalization that has proved disproportionately destructive to the lives of people of color and people with low incomes,” said Melissa Torres-Montoya, J.D., M.P.H., If/When/How’s Lawyer Engagement Manager. 

Everywhere in the United States, people have the constitutional right to abortion. But five states — Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Delaware, and Nevada — still retain laws that criminalize self-managed abortions, putting people at risk of prosecution although such laws are unconstitutional. Even in states that have no such laws, politically-motivated police and prosecutors have tried to misuse other criminal laws to target people who self-manage abortion.

If/When/How’s lawyers advocated for the resolution, which was co-sponsored by the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the ABA Criminal Justice Section, the Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence, the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities, and the Commission on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.

“As officers of the court, lawyers must take a bold, public stance against the misuse of the criminal legal system to police people’s reproductive lives,” said Sara Ainsworth, If/When/How’s Senior Legal and Policy Director. “Abortion and pregnancy loss are issues of health and human rights, and have no place in the criminal legal system.”

If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline is available for anyone who fears criminalization for self-managing their abortion care. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, people may find it even harder to navigate unnecessary regulations that limit access to clinical abortion care and anti-abortion lawmakers and prosecutors may take advantage of heightened societal fear, relying on a racist, classist criminal legal system to punish people for their pregnancy outcomes.

If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice transforms the law and policy landscape through advocacy, support, and organizing so all people have the power to determine if, when, and how to define, create, and sustain families with dignity and to actualize sexual and reproductive wellbeing on their own terms. We envision a transformation of the legal systems and institutions that perpetuate oppression into structures that realize justice, and a future when all people can self-determine their reproductive lives free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.