Case in Point: Intersection of Race, Class and Gender

Georgia Woman Faces Murder Charges for Taking Pill that Allegedly Killed Fetus

[Editor’s Update: After three days in jail, the changes were dropped, but the outrage remains.]

By Lauren Gambino
The Guardian via Alternet

June 10, 2015 – A Georgia woman is facing a murder charge in the death of a five-and-a-half-month-old fetus she delivered after she allegedly took a pill that terminated her pregnancy.

Officials have charged Kenlissia Jones, 23, of Albany, Georgia, with malice murder and possession of a dangerous drug, according to local [3] news [4] reports. She was arrested on Saturday night after giving birth to the fetus in a car on the way to the hospital and taken to nearby Dougherty County jail, where she is being held without bond.

Pro-choice advocates said there was no abortion clinic nearby and that initial reports of the young woman’s arrest were “deeply disturbing” in the wake of so-called “feticide” – killing a fetus – laws sweeping the US.

According to a police report obtained by the Associated Press, a county social services worker called Albany police to the hospital, and told officers that Jones ingested four pills she purchased online to “induce labor”. The social services worker told the police Jones wished to end her pregnancy because she and her boyfriend had broken up.

Jones’s neighbor drove her to the hospital, but she gave birth to the fetus before they arrived. Officials said the fetus died at the hospital about half an hour after she gave birth, according to the report, which did not indicate how far along Jones was in her pregnancy.

WALB-TV reported earlier that authorities had said the woman was five and a half months pregnant.

The Dougherty County district attorney, Greg Edwards, reportedly said the case is likely to be presented to a grand jury, and that prosecutors needed time to explore their options under state and federal law.

Albany police refused to answer questions about the case, citing an open investigation and directing all calls to the Dougherty County district attorney’s office. The office did not return multiple requests for comment by the Guardian.

“If women do not have the means to access medical care, they will take matters into their own hands, with tragic consequences,” said Jaime Chandra, a spokeswoman for the Feminist Women’s Health [5] Center in Atlanta.

More than 50% of women in Georgia live in a county with no abortion clinic, and this is true of Dougherty County and nearly all of south-west Georgia, according to the Health Center.

Cytotec, a misoprostol drug, can be used in combination with another drug – mifepristone – to end a pregnancy non-surgically, a method known as medical abortion. It was not immediately clear to the Guardian whether Jones took the first pill, or only Cytotec, which by itself is not considered a so-called “abortion pill”.

There were 28 abortion providers in Georgia in 2011, down from 32 in 2008,according to the Guttmacher Institute [6]. A full 96% of counties in the state had no abortion clinic in 2011, which would require more than half of all Georgia women to travel outside their county to receive an abortion. Chandra said she is unaware of an abortion clinic in or around Albany.
Purvi Patel case: legal experts warn on reproductive rights in Indiana Read more

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy expert at the Guttmacher Institute, said reports on the Georgia case were “deeply disturbing” and that she was alarmed at what appears to be a spike in the number of cases in which women are charged with crimes for self-aborting their fetus. Criminalizing abortion discourages women from seeking the medical care they may need, she said.

“You could imagine a woman might not go to the hospital if she thinks she is going to be arrested,” Nash said.

Currently, at least 38 US states [7] – including Georgia – have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The first person convicted in the US under such a law is Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman serving 20 years in prison [8] for ending her own pregnancy using abortion drugs in July 2013.

In Georgia, the penalty for “feticide” is life in prison.

“The woman wasn’t able to access healthcare when she needed it, she took action on her own and then when she sought out healthcare she was then arrested,” Nash said. “She was let down every step of the way.”

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