By: Kebé, Program Coordinator, and Rebecca Wang, J.D., Legal Fellow
If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline supports women and pregnant people who have self-managed their own abortions, or who are considering doing so, by giving them legal information and, if necessary, connecting them to a lawyer who could provide legal advice. While self-managed abortion is as old as pregnancy itself, with the advent of new medical technologies, it is safer and more accessible than ever before. However, the threat of arrest may turn what would otherwise be a dignified abortion experience into a traumatizing or demoralizing one, particularly for those who live under heightened government surveillance, or who are over-policed because of the identities they hold.
Women and pregnant people are attracted to or pushed toward self-managed abortion for a variety of reasons. For many, unnecessary legal restrictions have decimated access to clinical abortion care and other reproductive health services. Biased counseling, parental consent laws, ultrasound mandates, clinic protestors, and financial obstacles such as paying for transportation, lodging, or child care can also pile up to make clinic-based abortion entirely inaccessible.
But self-managed care may not necessarily be a last resort. Self-managing abortion care may be preferable because it provides the kind of privacy and self-determination many are searching for, or because cultural and linguistic barriers may make a clinical setting less comfortable than self-directed care. Some people distrust that the conventional healthcare system will provide adequate care, for its history of abuses of people of color, immigrants, and people living in poverty. It may even be a requirement of a person’s belief system or an expression of their personal values.
We do not ask about anyone’s immigration status, and any information we receive is kept confidential.
The Repro Legal Helpline is for people who have been or are concerned that they will be investigated or arrested for ending their own pregnancy or for helping someone else do so. This fear is justifiable given that someone searching online for information about proper dosage and typical side effects of abortion pills may discover headlines about women who have been arrested and imprisoned for allegedly ending their own pregnancies. Even though abortion is legal here in the United States, people who self manage and those who assist them can risk unjust arrest, investigation, and even time in prison. Since 1973, at least 21 people have been arrested for self-induced abortions. And in 2015, Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of feticide, child abuse, and neglect for inducing an abortion with abortion pills and disposing of the fetal remains in Indiana. She was released from prison the following year, after a judge overturned the conviction.
Here’s how reprolegalhelpline.org works: People can send us a message through our secure contact form, call our toll-free number, or send us an encrypted message through the Signal app. Our helpline is a warmline, meaning that we don’t answer calls directly, but instead we return calls within two to four business days. It’s important for callers to let us know the best way to reach them and whether it would be safe to leave them a voicemail. We also ask people to tell us a little bit about their situation when they first reach out to us, but not to share too many details until we get in touch with them. We do not ask about anyone’s immigration status, and any information we receive is kept confidential.
Depending on what a caller needs, an advocate can provide some general legal information and direct them to additional resources. If the caller is in a situation where they need legal advice or representation, the advocate will also try to connect that caller with a lawyer in their state that can help. The advocate is not able to answer specific legal questions about a personal situation, and they cannot make suggestions for what a caller should do. The advocate also cannot answer questions related to ordering or using pills for medication abortion.
We have worked with legal researchers to look into laws in each state related to self-managed abortion, and that research informs the general legal information that our advocate gives. We are also actively recruiting lawyers in every state who can provide free legal assistance and/or representation to callers who need them. We continue to spread the word about the helpline by presenting about it at conferences, events, and meetings. Our community and allied organizations have also been instrumental in directing people to our helpline and resources.
If you or someone you know has questions about their legal rights and self-managed abortion, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. And if you’re a lawyer or legal advocate who wants to join our efforts, get in touch.
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