The Coat Hanger Diaries — America’s New Abortion Story

(Graphic: Brian Covert / Photo: Reuters)

Anna Yocca was 31 years old when she tried to abort a fetus in her womb that she did not want to carry any longer. In an act of sheer desperation, she used a coat hanger rod in a bathtub full of water to try to end her pregnancy, which was 24 weeks along. When the bleeding wouldn’t stop, she called for medical help and was transported to a hospital, where she gave birth to a severely injured baby. She was soon arrested by police and charged with attempted murder of her child.

The murder charge against Yocca was later dismissed, at which point she was re-indicted under a controversial fetal assault law. When that law expired, Yocca was once more re-indicted on three new felonies, which included two laws that originated in the 19th century: attempted criminal abortion and attempted procurement of a miscarriage.

The year when she attempted to end her own pregnancy? 2015, not too long ago. The place? Tennessee, a southern state with some of the harshest abortion laws in the United States of America. A woman in Tennessee, like Ms. Yocca, was only allowed to have an abortion after 24 weeks if her life or that of her child was in danger; all women who want to receive an abortion in that state, in any case, must undergo counseling and wait two days before proceeding. There were only four abortion clinics in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties. The county where Ms. Yocca lived did not have even one such clinic.

Welcome to America’s new abortion story in the early 21st century — let’s call it The Coat Hanger Diaries. This policing and politicizing of a woman’s basic right to choose when it comes to abortion is dangerously close to becoming the norm, as the United States Supreme Court at this very moment considers whether to trash the federal pro-choice law of the land, the 1973 landmark court decision known as Roe v. Wade. At press time, the Supreme Court has not yet rendered its decision, but it could come any day now. If a recently leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion is any indication, the court is ready to take the plunge and flush Roe v. Wade down the toilet for good.

If that does happen, the fault lines already splitting the nation over issues of voting rights, elections, mass shootings, education, policing and white supremacy will become a Great Divide that may be impossible for both sides to ever cross. And that, of course, has been the intention all along for Christian fundamentalists and many on the political right and far right who have been pushing ever since Roe v. Wade to overturn it and thus impose their minority will on the majority of the U.S. public when it comes to reproductive rights.

Simply put, the government must keep its hands off women’s bodies — in the United States and any other nation of the world. But if the Supreme Court intends to use the law to control what women can do and cannot do with their own bodies, then the male-dominated centers of power in America can expect a social uprising in return. Women will not go away quietly on this one, nor should they. We can see what happens in other countries that forcefully use religion and reactionary laws to bludgeon women into submission. If it’s wrong over there, then it’s wrong in the USA.

There are many among us who clearly see the hypocrisy in all of this: Those on the political right who fight so venomously for a fetus’s right to stay alive won’t make a peep when it comes to protecting the lives of babies after they are born, as if to say: “Hey kid, we saved your precious life in the womb. Now that you’re born into this world, you’re on your own.” These anti-abortion hypocrites will protest and block abortion clinics, and threaten or kill doctors who perform the operations, but will not stand in the way of a shooter armed with assault weapons in a school classroom from killing innocent young children and sending them to paradise to meet sweet Jesus in person.

Likewise, these American hypocrites will howl loudly about the horrible ways that so-called “backward” and “uncivilized” countries around the world treat their women — and then in the next breath, move to subvert their own women’s rights. Does anybody remember how shamelessly former U.S. president George W. Bush (a born-again Christian) used the treatment of women in Afghanistan and Iraq to help justify the U.S. military invading those countries in the early 2000s? He wanted to liberate the oppressed women there and give them the chance to taste the same freedoms that American women have. Twenty years later, when the U.S. military was preparing to leave Afghanistan in defeat, Bush once again used the status of women in Afghanistan as a reason why the U.S. should remain there as an occupying force, not withdraw. And so the hypocrisy goes.

A personal message, if I may, to the nine justices sitting on the bench of the conservative-leaning Supreme Court of the United States: Dear SCOTUS, you trash Roe v. Wade at your own risk. Not only is a woman’s right to choose what’s best for her body at stake here — your credibility and legitimacy as the supreme legal body of the nation is too. As plenty of available evidence shows, criminalizing abortion will not stop a woman from having an abortion if that’s what she really wants to do. It will only lead her to seek out other less-safe alternatives for abortion out of desperation, be it back-alley clinics, drugs, coat hangers or other means.

And Anna Yocca, the young woman from Tennessee? Her baby boy was quickly taken away from her after birth by the authorities and placed in foster care. The child, born prematurely, had sustained heavy injuries during the attempted abortion and will reportedly require lifelong medical attention. The mother, Ms. Yocca, served her time in prison and was released in 2017, no doubt scarred for life. If she had had access to adequate education and information and the proper medical care beforehand, the whole tragic story could have been avoided.

As it stands today, the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised and ready to make sure that The Coat Hanger Diaries and other such tales become America’s new abortion story for the future. It is a chilling story that we all know the ending to before we even turn the page.

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