In This State, Having A Miscarriage Could Land You In Jail

In This State, Having A Miscarriage Could Land You In Jail

Even an unintended miscarriage could be deemed suspicious.

“Indiana is not a safe place to be pregnant,” said Shelly Dodson.

Dodson is the director of All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Bloomington, where folks can go for support in their decisions about pregnancy, including abortion, adoption, and parenting. In addition to having the the 4th highest maternal mortality rate in the country, which disproportionately impacts people of color, abortion laws make it very difficult to access abortion care in the state, and also cause those who have had miscarriages to distrust the medical community, lest they be accused of feticide and prosecuted.

“The laws definitely drive a wedge between doctors and patients,” said Dodson.

Let’s break this down. In terms of restrictions on abortion, Indiana has many. There’s a waiting period, state mandated counseling, required parental consent if you’re under 18, and neither public or private insurance will cover the procedure except in cases of rape, incest, and endangerment to the life or health of the mother. In addition, 95% of the state’s counties have no abortion provider – there are only 6 clinics in Indiana, and 66% of people in the state live in those counties. While abortion is technically allowed up to 20 weeks, most are done in the first trimester, since laws specifically targeting abortion providers and clinics make it difficult to impossible for people to do their jobs (these are known as TRAP laws). The result of these restrictions is that the abortion rate in Indiana is actually decreasing, as folks seeking abortions are traveling, if they can afford to do so,  to nearby Illinois.

Emily traveled out of town to get her abortion. She also paid for and viewed an ultrasound of her fetus against her will, and spent the contents of her savings account on the procedure. “Indiana is a state afflicted by poverty and women have less money than men, statewide, so these laws have really tangible and devastating effects. I remember being so upset that I had to look at the ultrasound because I knew what the purpose of me doing that was—not a medical one, but a ploy to try and shame me into not getting an abortion.”

Indiana Governor Mike Holcomb recently signed into law SB 203, which allows for someone to be criminally prosecuted for murder, manslaughter or feticide of a fetus at any stage of its development. The establishment of a fetus as a person (a law Ohio is currently trying to pass) not only means that people who have a abortion or a miscarriage can be prosecuted, but it’s also led to the requirement that fetal remains be cremated.

Because of personhood laws, having a miscarriage can land you in jail, as was the case for Purvi Patel, who was convicted in 2015 of feticide and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Patel sought medical care after inducing her own abortion, which is also illegal in the state. Although this was overturned in July 2016, she had already served 18 months. Patel’s prosecution set up a dangerous precedent, calling any and all miscarriages into question. “Fetal harm laws are supposed to protect,” said Shelly Dodson, “but they’re being used to prosecute people for poor pregnancy outcome.” In other words, even if you have a miscarriage that’s in no way associated with trying to induce your own abortion, all it takes is for one person in the hospital to decide there’s something off, and the police can be called. A 2017 piece in Rewire featured the story of Ali Brown, who was told that if she miscarried, she needed to keep the clothes she was wearing, as well as the pad, and anything else she bled out on, so she could provide evidence that the miscarriage wasn’t induced.  “It’s a hostile climate for people who are seeking support,” said Dodson.

One of the sources I consulted in my search for stories about abortion and miscarriage in Indiana was Periods for Politicians/Periods for Pence (PFP), a grassroots group that was started after then Governor Mike Pence attempted to pass a law forcing people who get periods to cremate the remains of their menstruation, which were to be regarded as a miscarriage under the legislation. According to member Kelly K,  many people used to tell their stories of seeking abortion in Indiana to the group. “I think anyone who may be facing abortion for any reason is reluctant to share here in Indiana because the laws are vague,” she said.  “There are constant attempts to undermine abortion care and essentially rob women of their medical privacy. People are worried and scared their abortions will be criminalized.” In a climate where doctors have to report anything that could be construed as a complication of abortion, said K, the procedure is being stigmatized. “People don’t want to deal with that, so they’re recessing back into privacy.”

“Indiana is essentially trying to make it a crime for women to have a negative pregnancy outcome and/or an abortion, and Purvi Patel shows how real that threat is in our state,” said Emily, who’s currently raising money for the Hoosier Abortion Fund, to make abortion accessible to all who seek it. “I would also say that the only reason the GOP even propose these laws is because of abortion—it’s all part of their larger strategy to create that framework to support their major goal—illegalizing abortion altogether.”

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images