AMICI: Unconstitutional Abortion Ban Puts Pregnant Mississippians in Danger Of Arrest

Abortion bans inevitably make people who self-manage their abortions targets for criminalization, argued advocates, researchers, and health care providers who filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  In oral arguments later this fall, the Court will consider whether Mississippi may ban pre-viability abortions in defiance of nearly a half-century of abortion case law.                        

If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, along with the National Lawyers Guild, Project SANA (Self-Managed Abortion Needs Assessment), and other organizations filed this brief, which argues that Mississippi’s abortion ban places people in a double bind: unable to seek abortions, and at risk of criminalization when they tend to their reproductive health needs on their own. They point to arrests, in Mississippi and around the world, of people accused of ending their own pregnancies, and warn the Court that the threat of arrest deters people from seeking medical help if they need it.

“Banning abortions has never stopped people from needing them, and fortunately the option of self-managed abortion with pills has dramatically improved  the safety of self-managed abortion worldwide. What is dangerous is the possibility that people will face cruel and degrading interrogations, arrests, and even imprisonment,”  said If/When/How Senior Counsel and Legal Director Farah Diaz-Tello. “Banning abortion puts Mississippi, and the whole U.S., on a treacherous path that undermines decades of progress in reproductive healthcare.”  

abortion with pills has dramatically improved  the safety of self-managed abortion worldwide. What is dangerous is the possibility that people will face cruel and degrading interrogations, arrests, and even imprisonment,”  said If/When/How Senior Counsel and Legal Director Farah Diaz-Tello. “Banning abortion puts Mississippi, and the whole U.S., on a treacherous path that undermines decades of progress in reproductive healthcare.” 

Even in the absence of laws banning abortion, pregnant people are already being targeted for criminalization. At least 21 people across the U.S. have been arrested for self-managing an abortion or helping someone who self-managed an abortion. Hundreds more — including in Mississippi — have been arrested for experiencing miscarriages. If/When/How provides criminal defense for additional clients currently accused of abortion-related crimes, and runs a Repro Legal Helpline and a Repro Legal Defense Fund to support people facing legal risk or prosecution due to self-managed abortion. They argue that this trend will only worsen if the right to abortion further erodes.

“Abortion and pregnancy loss are issues of health and human rights, and have no place in the criminal legal system,” said Sara L. Ainsworth, If/When/How’s Senior Legal & Policy Director. “That’s why there has been an outcry from medical and legal professionals in recent years, with groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Lawyers Guild all passing resolutions opposing the criminalization of abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths.”

As these resolutions highlight, Mississippi’s unconstitutional HB 1510 directly attacks n Roe v. Wade, banning abortion care for people beyond 15 weeks’ gestation. It relies on debunked theories about fetal pain, and notions of abortion as dangerous and harmful, leading to stigmatization — and ultimately criminalization — of people who may self-manage their abortions.  The full brief, authored by If/When/How and co-counsel Pacifica Law Group, is available here.

To learn more about the legal landscape of self-managed abortion, read If/When/How’s Roe’s Unfinished Promise and 2019 Roe’s Unfinished Promise update. Anyone with questions about their legal rights and self-managed abortion is encouraged to reach out to If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline.           

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.