Stop Prosecuting Abortion!


It was no surprise when candidate Donald Trump mused about punishing women who have abortions. The logical consequence of abortion bans—and indeed, all false claims that equate abortion or birth control with murder—is sending women to jail.

This isn’t just theory or speculation. It’s already happening. 

According to a report by the SIA Legal Team, at least 21 people have been arrested in the U.S. for self-managing abortion since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 in Roe v. Wade that abortion was legal. This number is a subset of more than 1,000 arrests, detentions and forced medical interventions that have faced pregnant women across the country—including arrests of women for taking abortion pills on their own, forced C-sections and states appointing legal representation for fetuses.

Some of those women hail from Virginia, where I live—and where, despite a governor and attorney general who are considered reproductive rights champions, this still happens. Michelle Roberts faced felony charges for self-managed abortion, which were dropped in October 2018. Katherine Dellis was convicted after having a miscarriage at home, and later pardoned by Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) in June last year. 

It is a national concern to stop prosecuting abortion. It’s not just bad laws and bad politicians that are being used to violate basic human rights for women and pregnant people—it’s bad prosecutors who think they know better, bad judges hungry to punish women and bad law enforcement officials and medical staff who call turning people in for suspected abortions “pro-life.”

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a future dystopia tale. For women across the country—most especially poor people, women of color and residents of states where politicians have purposefully made abortion extremely difficult to access—it hits eerily and scarily close to home.

A new effort led by Reproaction, an organization I co-founded, aims to change that. Our Stop Prosecuting Abortion campaign discusses the real-life consequences of punishing women for pregnancy outcomes, and backs it up with innovative actions to help this country change course.

The campaign launched with a press conference on the morning of the so-called “March for Life” at the National Press Club—including Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation; Indra Lusero, staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women; Jennifer Wang, deputy director of programs at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; Renee Bracey Sherman, Senior Public Affairs Manager at National Network of Abortion Funds; and myself. From there, Reproaction and allies, including Feminist Majority Foundation and the Women’s Information Network, led a counter-demonstration at the March for Life demanding accountability from protesters who are calling for an end to Roe.

FMF’s latest National Clinic Violence Survey spotlights the persistent threats facing providers nationwide. And in ReproAction’s first in a series of videos in which abortion opponents share a range of alarming views about punishing women who have abortions, we spotlight Operation Save America, an extreme national group that has met with government officials including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R-KY).

This year marked the first Roe anniversary since abortion opponents secured a five-seat Supreme Court majority with power to overturn or gut Roe, and that’s why it was important for us to launch this campaign in time with the so-called “March for Life.” We wanted to express peaceful, proud support for abortion rights and represent the views of the nearly three in four Americans who say they don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. 

And we will continue fighting on until women are free to make the choices they want to make—without fear of reprisal from the state.

Erin Matson is a feminist organizer and writer recognized for creativity, vision, breakthrough campaigns and fearless advocacy and storytelling. She is the co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice, and also serves on the board of directors of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation. Previously, she served as editor at large for Rewire and as action vice president of the National Organization for Women.

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