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While Roe v. Wade was law, self-managed abortion was criminalized in parts of the US. This study aimed to create a database and analyze all identifiable criminal investigations and arrests for self-managed abortion from 2000 to 2020.
We created a database of all available cases of self-managed abortion criminalization in the US (n=61). Data on demographic (race/ethnicity, immigration status, type of legal representation), case (legal system progression, court rulings) and self-managed abortion (gestational age, method) characteristics were coded from court documents and/or media records. Using descriptive and bivariable analyses, we examined the distribution of key demographic, case, and self-managed abortion variables and associations between demographic characteristics, self-managed abortion methods, and criminalization of self-managed abortion.
The database includes cases (n=54 adult; n=7 juvenile) across 25 states and 19 years. Among those in the database, the average age is 26.9 years and 26% of the sample includes those helping others self-manage. The records include 39% White, 38% minoritized racial and ethnic groups, and 23% whose race/ethnicity was not reported. In 43% of the cases, murder or homicide was considered by police or prosecutors. Cases show variation in abortion method (eg, 49% used abortion medication, 11% used multiple methods, 10% used physical force, and 7% used an object). Among the cases with a homicide consideration, 39% were among people of color compared with 19% among White people (p<0.01).
People of color criminalized for self-managed abortion were more likely to receive a homicide consideration. As the US enters a post-Roe era, ongoing attention to how abortion criminalization is an act of white supremacy is needed.
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