New York City police charged a 20-year-old woman with first-degree self-abortion after she allegedly terminated her pregnancy by ingesting an herbal drink, according to WABC-TV.
Police arrested Yaribely Almonte on Wednesday and charged her after her fetus was found dead in the trash outside her Washington Heights building. Self-abortion is a misdemeanor in New York, and according to the state statute, the charge applies if a woman “commits or submits to an abortional act upon herself which causes her miscarriage” after 24 weeks unless a physician states an abortion is medically necessary to save the woman’s life. If convicted, Almonte faces up to a year in jail.
Almonte couldn’t be reached for comment, and it’s unknown whether she has an attorney.
Laws across the country related to self-abortion vary widely, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit reproductive health research institution.
Only a handful of states, including New York, have laws explicitly prohibiting self-abortion. New York’s law and a few others were passed before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Since the passage of Roe, some states no longer enforce these self-induced abortion statutes.
Utah passed its law in 2010 after a 17-year-old pregnant girl paid a man to beat her to induce a miscarriage. In that case, the fetus survived, the man went to jail and the law was enacted that would make the girl’s actions criminal.
Thirty-nine states make it illegal for anyone other than a medical provider — usually a physician — to perform an abortion.
“We can infer that there is some penalty if the person performing the abortion is not a physician,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. “Not all the laws exempt actions by a pregnant woman, but some do.”
There are also other states that have charged women under the fetal homicide law, Nash added.
It’s not clear what was in the drink Almonte consumed, but Dr. Kevin Ault, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine said the biggest risks of non-medical abortions are bleeding and infections.
“When you’re having a miscarriage, the cervix is open and a lot of bacteria can get into the vagina and go up into the uterus,” he said. “People can also lose a lot of blood, and the only out is to go to the hospital.” But because women may not want to admit what happened, doctors may not get the information they need for proper treatment.
There is a medically established protocol for abortions which includes counseling, the appropriate medications and post-abortion treatment, and Ault explained that self-abortion eliminates some of these important steps.
Statistics are unclear about whether the number of self-abortions is on the rise.
“If you talk to gynecologists that practice in bigger cities, like here in Atlanta, you get the impression they’re becoming more common for a variety of reasons,” Ault said.
One reason is the availability of a drug called misoprostol, or Cytotec, that can cause miscarriages. It’s a prescription-only drug, but is often sold illegally at a very low price. It’s also used as part of a two-drug combination, with mifepristone, for medical abortions.
But a recent study by Guttmacher researchers surveyed nearly 9,500 pregnant women who visited abortion providers and found only 1.2 percent of them admitted to trying misoprostol in the past or with their current pregnancy, and only 1.4 percent of these women tried other means such as herbal concoctions.
The researchers, however, said it’s still unclear how many women self-induce abortions outside a clinical setting.
“Media reports of self-induced abortions using misoprostol may be exaggerated, but further research is needed to estimate the incidence of self-induced abortion among women who do not access clinical abortion services,” they wrote.