- Views & Opinions
A Georgia woman spent nearly three days in jail without bond before prosecutors decided police had wrongly charged her with murder after being told she had used pills ordered online to terminate her pregnancy.
Kenlissia Jones, 23, has been freed and no longer faces a malice murder charge. But her legal case isn’t over. District Attorney Greg Edwards told reporters that he still plans to pursue a misdemeanor charge against Jones for possessing a dangerous drug.
Abortion rights advocates say the case is troubling because it appears to be part of a creeping trend in which women are being prosecuted for exercising their abortion rights. An Indiana woman last March was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of feticide for using pills to end her pregnancy.
Jones may have escaped a murder prosecution in Georgia, but the police’s decision to charge her is chilling, said Lynn Paltrow, an attorney and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women in New York.
“The initial reaction of the police and prosecution to view her as a murderer is reflective of the current political climate in this country,” Paltrow said.
Even abortion opponents such as Genevieve Wilson, a director of Georgia Right to Life, were stunned by the proposed murder charge.
Georgia has prohibited the prosecution of women for feticide or for performing illegal abortions in cases involving their own pregnancies. Edwards said the arresting officers acted within their authority and used “their best understanding of the law,” but that their understanding was incorrect.
“Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts related to the end of her pregnancy,” the prosecutor said.
Edwards noted that police had charged Jones without consulting his prosecuting attorneys.
Jones was arrested after seeking help at a hospital. A social worker told police that Jones had taken four Cytotec pills she ordered online after breaking up with her boyfriend. The pills induced labor and she delivered the fetus, which did not survive, in a car on the way to the hospital, according to an Albany police report.
Although the Supreme Court has declared that American women have legal rights to abortion, states have put limits on where abortions can be performed, who can perform them and at what stages of pregnancy abortions are allowed. Traditionally, those state laws have targeted doctors and other abortion providers, but not women seeking to end their pregnancies.
Abortion rights advocates worry that this could be changing.
In March, 33-year-old Purvi Patel of Granger, Indiana, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a baby. Prosecutors said Patel ended her seven-month pregnancy using drugs from China instead of seeking a doctor’s help. Paltrow’s group called it the first time an American woman was convicted and sentenced for trying to end her pregnancy.
Cytotec is a brand name for misoprostol, a prescription drug used in combination with mifepristone to induce nonsurgical abortions. Used as recommended, mifepristone kills the fetus, and then misoprostol induces the labor that expels it. The pills are sold with prescriptions in the U.S. but available over the counter and online in many countries.
In many cases, women are using misoprostol alone — partly because it is more easily obtained, because it has long been approved as a drug that prevents and heals ulcers.
Dr. Beverly Winikoff, president of the women’s health research organization Gynuity Health Projects, said misoprostol has been used in more than 2.5 million abortions in the U.S. and in hundreds of millions of abortions overseas in European countries as well as nations such as India and China.
“I would say it’s a very safe drug,” said Winikoff, who said its more common side effects include chills, fever and sometimes cramping. “The reason some people think it’s unsafe is because it can cause abortion, which people who are anti-abortion don’t like.”
The police report does not say how far along Jones was in her pregnancy. WALB-TV reported earlier that authorities estimated Jones was about five-and-a-half months pregnant.
A phone number for Jones was not accepting incoming calls and there was no answer at the address for her listed on the police report.