Prosecutors have dropped the murder charge against Kenlissa Jones, a Georgia woman who was arrested earlier this week for terminating her own pregnancy.
Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards declared on Wednesday that he had the charges dismissed after discovering that, under current Georgia law, “criminal prosecution of a pregnant woman for her own actions against her unborn child does not seem permitted.” Edwards noted, however, that “third parties could be criminally prosecuted for their actions relating to an illegal abortion” and said he would “continue to review the matter thoroughly and consider any sound, legal charges.”
Jones, a 23-year-old Georgia resident, was charged with malice murder on Saturday after taking an abortion pill she purchased online. The pill, Cytotec (or Misoprostol), is only safe for women in their first trimester of pregnancy. But Jones was over five months pregnant, and the pill caused her to deliver her non-viable fetus in the back of a car on the way to the hospital. The fetus died shortly thereafter.
Georgia law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Had Jones’ prosecution for murder continued, she may have faced the death penalty or life in prison.
Jones is one of a growing number of American women criminally charged for abortion-related issues. In March, 33-year-old Purvi Patel of Indiana became the first American woman ever convicted of feticide for attempting to self-terminate a pregnancy. Patel, who has no prior criminal record, was sentenced to 41 years in prison, of which she will serve 20, after suffering a miscarriage in July 2013, which prosecutors allege was caused by taking abortion pills. But over the course of the week-long trial, “prosecutors failed to introduce any evidence that Patel ingested the drugs the prosecution claimed she ordered,” says reproductive law scholar Imani Gandy, Senior Legal Analyst at RH Reality Check. “The state’s own toxicologist admitted that he couldn’t find any evidence of abortifacients in Patel’s system.”
Patel’s conviction has sparked outcry from women’s health advocates, who warn that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that makes it far too easy for pregnant women to end up on trial. “Since states tend to copy one another, we can expect that attempts to punish pregnant women will increase in other states, and that women in Indiana who take steps to end their own pregnancies, experience pregnancy losses, or are unable to guarantee a healthy birth outcome will rightly fear that a criminal investigation and arrest will follow,” Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), told RH Reality Check.
Indeed, just a month later in April 2015, Anne Bynum, a 37-year-old woman from Arkansas, was arrested and charged with “concealing a birth” and “abusing a corpse” after allegedly taking an abortion-inducing pill, passing the fetus, and then wrapping the body in a bag for several hours before going to the hospital. If convicted on both charges, Bynum faces up to 16 years in prison and fines up to $20,000. But she’s not the only one facing charges in this case: Karen Collins, the nurse who allegedly provided the drugs to help Bynum terminate her pregnancy, was arrested last Friday and charged with one count of performing an unlicensed abortion and a separate count of performing an unlawful abortion. Collins could face six years behind bars and $10,000 in fines if she’s convicted.
All of these cases are based on the troubling presumption “that there’s a role for the criminal justice system in overseeing one’s pregnancy and decisions about pregnancy,” NAPW’s Paltrow told MSNBC. “Every aspect of women’s reproductive lives becomes subject to potential criminal investigation.”