Gender & Sexuality

Coat Hangers Are Back in Tennessee

The public does not know the story behind the abortion that has sent Anna Yocca, 31, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to jail.

Police found evidence in September that the Amazon “fulfillment center” employee used a coat hanger in her bathtub to try to end her 24-week pregnancy, and after bleeding excessively, went to a hospital with her boyfriend.

That story hit the national news in December, when she was charged with first-degree attempted murder. The internet saw her face in a mug shot.

More than 100,000 women of reproductive age are estimated to have induced their own abortions at home in nearby Texas. But we know Yocca's name because after going to the hospital, she was arrested.

The hospital-to-jailhouse track had already been laid for women in Tennessee. In 2014, the state began arresting women who give birth to babies with remnants of drugs in their systems. Social workers at certain hospitals are in the habit of calling local detectives, who sometimes cuff new mothers on the spot.

The women's mug shots were common sights on Tennessee local news this summer: Mallory Loyola, Jamillah Falls, Tammy Anderson, Tonya Martin. The message was clear: if you were caught, you would be arrested. As a result, some women gave birth in hiding to avoid police prosecution.

Soon after the drug law went into effect, Tennessee voters changed the state constitution via ballot measure. They declared that “nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion” and affirmed the legislature's ability to repeal abortion entirely. In May, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law a 48-hour waiting period for abortions and a licensing rule aimed at closing clinics.

Yocca's arrest signals that the politicians' anti-abortion agenda has now been turned over to the police.

And far from being a deterrent, her arrest could scare women who need abortions outside of states' strict bounds into carrying them out in secret or without medical care, as Yocca did. Her much-projected mug shot legitimizes women's fears of prosecution.

About the reporter

Rosa Goldensohn

Rosa Goldensohn

Rosa Goldensohn is a politics and government reporter for Crain's New York Business.

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