Since 2000, dozens of people have been unjustly accused of a crime for ending their own pregnancy—that is, self-managing abortion outside of a clinical setting—or for helping a loved one do so. And those are just the cases we know of to date.
As lawyers and advocates for reproductive justice who fight attacks on self-managed abortion, we’ve tracked these unjust investigations, arrests, and prosecutions across the United States, both in localities where self-managed abortion is explicitly criminalized and in places where police and prosecutors have manipulated laws to target people.
From red states to blue states and rural counties to big cities, these attacks on autonomy happen anywhere police, prosecutors, and politicians exist—everywhere.
That’s why, today, If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice is launching our nationwide Repro Legal Defense Fund (RLDF), a first-of-its-kind lifeline supporting people investigated, arrested, or prosecuted for self-managed abortions. The RLDF is staffed and backed by If/When/How’s compassionate advocates and legal experts with firsthand experience defending people criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes. And with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case directly challenging Roe v. Wade, headed to the Supreme Court, it’s especially urgent to ensure people who end their own pregnancies have the money they need to defend themselves.
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The RLDF is a bail fund and more. We’re here to get people out of jail and to keep them from going to prison by ensuring they can pay for the legal resources necessary to get charges dropped and cases won.
With support from the RLDF, someone who might otherwise spend nights behind bars after being arrested on suspicion of self-managing abortion because they couldn’t afford clinical care will return home; or, a person accused of ordering abortion medication online will be able to afford the expert witness who could win their case. It’s our duty to ensure targets of state violence and control are able to obtain skilled representation and mount the best possible defense.
Criminalizing self-managed abortion does not improve public health or safety. It dissuades people from seeking health care, and may make medical providers believe they’re legally required to report cases of suspected self-managed abortion. (They’re not.)
It also puts those with the fewest resources, who are most likely to suffer at the hands of racist police and state violence, at the highest risk. It further traumatizes and creates cascades of harm for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, women, people with disabilities, survivors of intimate partner violence and other forms of abuse, queer and trans folks, and those experiencing poverty.
Criminalization isn’t about just prosecutions and prison time, but any state interference that forces people into contact with law enforcement, courts, or the carceral system. Surveillance, investigations, and arrests are all intended to instill fear and assert state control over people’s private decisions. They needn’t escalate to prosecutions or pleas to be financially, emotionally, and socially costly.
We’re raising the alarm not to foment fear but to educate people about the legal risks as anti-abortion lobbyists and politicians find new ways to embroil those who end pregnancies in the legal system. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a bill allowing anyone—from an abusive partner to a nosy neighbor—to bring a civil suit against someone who supposedly violates the state’s unconstitutional six-week ban on abortion by providing care or helping someone do so. While the new law ostensibly prohibits bringing suit against a person who seeks abortion, in practice, there’s no way one can sue over an abortion without involving or investigating the person who sought care.
And whenever clinical abortion is made unlawful, we can expect self-managed abortion—which can be done safely at home with medication early in pregnancy—to become perhaps the only and best option for those who can’t travel for or afford clinical care, and who want to resist the state’s forced-pregnancy agenda.
Until everyone can access the care they need to decide if, when, and how to create, sustain, and define their families, the RLDF will fund strong defenses against an intrusive and punitive carceral state.
When police, prosecutors, and politicians use a legal system rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy to inflict harm, they need to know: not on our watch, and not without a fight. And we want to make sure anyone targeted for self-managed abortion knows there’s a powerful team of legal experts and advocates who won’t let these attacks go unanswered. We’ve got your back.