Tennessee woman in jail for coat-hanger abortion released after plea deal

A 32-year-old Tennessee woman was in jail for a full year after she was accused of trying to self-induce an abortion with a coat hanger. Anna Yocca was finally released from jail, but only after pleading guilty to “attempted procurement of a miscarriage” Monday. The charge she accepted is much less severe than the original charge of attempted murder, and her year behind bars counted as her sentence, but Yocca should have never been locked up to begin with.

She went to the hospital because of heavy bleeding after attempting an abortion in her bathtub, and she gave birth to a premature boy through a cesarean section, who was put in foster care and adopted. Yocca was arrested and stayed in jail when she couldn’t pay the $200,000 bond. Her attempted murder charge was dropped last February, but she was then charged with aggravated fetal assault using a law intended to punish pregnant women who use drugs. However, that law wasn’t renewed and therefore ceased to exist, so Yocca had to be charged yet again. This time, prosecutors went with aggravated assault with a weapon (i.e. the coat hanger), attempted criminal abortion, and attempted procurement of a miscarriage.

She struck a deal to only plead guilty to the final charge of attempted procurement of a miscarriage in order to be released.

“We’re glad Ms. Yocca is free after more than a year of unjust incarceration,” said Jill E. Adams, Self-Induced Abortion Legal Team chief strategist, in a press release. “Criminal prosecution is the wrong response to healthcare access issues. No one should fear arrest or jail for ending their own pregnancy or for seeking medical help when they need it.”

Access to abortion in Tennessee is abysmal. The procedure is banned after 24 weeks unless the mother’s life or health is in danger, women must undergo 48 hours of state-directed counseling, and the use of telemedicine for medical abortions is illegal. Yocca was 24 weeks pregnant when she tried to end her own pregnancy, and Rutherford County does not have a clinic that provides abortions.

Yocca’s story has largely flown under the radar, especially after her initial arrest, but everyone who cares about freedom of choice and reproductive rights should be outraged. If this happened to her, it will continue to happen in Tennessee and other states with strict abortion regulations. Where abortion is banned at 20 or 24 weeks and where it’s illegal to self-induce, women already are and will continue going to jail.