An Ru-486 Abortion, An Arrest, and Silence From the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Camps

Posted on April 12, 2012


In Idaho, abortion is legal.  RU-486 is legal.  And Jennie McCormack was arrested last year for inducing her own abortion with RU-486.  The Daily Beast and National Public Radio are among the very few publishers covering the story.  Pro-life organizations don’t want to touch this story, because traditionally, they have attacked abortion providers, not the patients.  Pro-choice advocates also are avoiding the case, perhaps because of the conservative nature of the current Supreme Court, but also because McCormack is not the most sympathetic figure to trot out in front of the media.  As inconvenient as it may be for them, both sides need to take a good, hard look at this case, because it points up a lot of what’s wrong with the pro-life approach, wrong with our laws, and wrong with our system of reproductive health services for women.

A single mother with three children, living on one child-support check, too poor to own a car or even a computer, McCormack could not imagine how she would provide for a fourth child.  The nearest abortion clinic was more than two hours away in Utah, and the waiting period meant she would have to make two round trips.  All moot points, since she had no car, and could not afford the cost of the travel or the abortion.   So she obtained the RU-486 through the mail, with the help of her sister.

McCormack’s fetus was not viable, but appeared older than she expected – perhaps in the late second-trimester.  She confided her horror to a friend.  Soon the police were notified, and McCormack was arrested.  But the fetal age was not the basis for the arrest; the abortion still would have been legal, if only a doctor had performed it.  The reason McCormack was arrested was a 1972 Idaho law, predating Roe vs. Wade, predating RU-486, and never before enforced, that makes it a crime for a woman to perform her own abortion.

There is so much wrong with this, no matter whether you are pro-choice or pro-life.  We need to do better.

First and foremost, this is exactly why birth control should be freely available at no cost.  Contraception prevents abortion by preventing pregnancy in the first place.  It should be a primary goal of both the pro-life and pro-choice camps.

Secondly, McCormack made her decision due to an inability to provide for the children she already has.  The news articles do not address the availability of support, education, or jobs programs that might have helped her provide for her fourth child, or that might have helped her emotionally and financially through a pregnancy and adoption process; but such assistance is crucial to helping women “choose life,” and to improving the condition of poor mothers and their children.

Third, McCormack’s case is illustrative of what happens when abortion is legal, but unavailable due to lack of clinics, lack of providers, and lack of money to pay for it.

Ultimately, McCormack’s case is not much different from what women faced in the days before Roe vs. Wade:  with no good alternatives, she illegally performed an abortion on herself, and ended up criminally charged based on an obsolete law that has been overcome by the events of the last 40 years.  If we really want to reduce abortions and improve the condition of poor mothers and their children, we need to stop the blind rhetoric and honestly examine the hard cases like McCormack’s.

Read more at the Daily Beast and NPR.

Originally published at The Color of Lila.