The murder charge against a Georgia woman who ended her pregnancy by taking abortion pills has been dropped, Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards said Wednesday.
Kenlissia Jones, 23, gave birth in a car on the way to the hospital after taking the drugs. The child died 30 minutes later, a family member said. She had been jailed and charged with murder in its death.
Edwards said in a statement that Georgia law does not permit the prosecution of a woman for the termination of her own pregnancy:
“This morning, I dismissed that malice murder warrant after thorough legal research by myself and my staff led to the conclusion that Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts relating to the end of her pregnancy,” Edwards said. “Although third parties could be criminally prosecuted for their actions relating to an illegal abortion, as the law currently stands in Georgia, criminal prosecution of a pregnant woman for her own actions against her unborn child does not seem permitted.”
The charges were initially brought by the Albany Police Department, but when Edwards’ office reviewed them, he found overwhelming case law in support of dropping the charges.
“The reason that we’re not prosecuting is because the law provides immunity to mothers in any act that may be committed against their unborn fetus,” Edwards said in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Jones has been released from custody on her own recognizance and is still facing a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous drug.
Ricco Riggins remembers crying only a few times in his life. But when he sat in a Georgia hospital official’s office last weekend as she described his infant nephew, who lived for just 30 minutes, he broke down.
“These past four days, I cried buckets of tears; I cried in that lady’s office for a long time,” Riggins told The Washington Post. “It was gut-wrenching.
“I hate it. I just really, really hate it.”
Riggins and his family have found themselves on the fault lines of a bitter ideological debate about late-term abortions. And he feels both sides viscerally.
On Saturday, his 23-year-old sister, Kenlissia Jones, gave birth in the back of a neighbor’s car while she was 5½ months pregnant. She had taken a prescription abortion pill, Cytotec, that she ordered online from a pharmaceutical company in Canada.
It is a prescription drug that can be used alone or in combination with another drug to induce abortions.
Wracked by pains, her neighbor tried to rush Jones to the hospital, but by then it was too late. The baby died after 30 minutes, Riggins was told by the hospital. Not long after, police arrived.
Jones was charged with murder and the sale, distribution or possession of dangerous drugs. She is being held in Dougherty County Jail without bond.
When Riggins got the call to rush from where his family lives, in Alabama, to a hospital in Georgia, he didn’t know he would be burying a stillborn nephew that he had no idea was on its way.
In fact, of his sister’s three pregnancies, he only knew of one, he said: Jones’s oldest son, Qaden, who is now 20 months old. Riggins and his wife received legal custody of that child for the duration of the legal proceedings.
A second child — born less than a year ago — had been given away to another family, Riggins learned later. This third pregnancy — and the subsequent loss and legal peril — came as a complete surprise to Riggins and most of the rest of his family, he said.
It is part of what has made this news so difficult to handle. Jones has always been troubled, Riggins said. Her life was riddled with run-ins with the law, he said, and psychological strain that was never diagnosed.
He said he doesn’t know whether his sister understands the gravity of what she did and the legal trouble she now faces. But he suspects she was desperate for a way out.
“The family is poor, so there’s not a lot of funds and everything,” Riggins said. “She felt like she didn’t have any money to get an abortion the legal way, and so as a result of not having money and being in a position of no resources, she ended up doing it the illegal way to not bring another child in the world … to not burden anyone else or burden herself.”
He added: “I hate it all the way around, but that’s the truth of the matter.”
It’s a tough decision that Riggins said he and his wife would never make, but he understands that women can legally perform abortions under different circumstances.
“When these kids get these pills and they’re off to themselves, they don’t think about the law,” he said. “They don’t think about, ‘If I do it eight weeks earlier it’s going to be legal.’ They don’t think about the ramifications of the law, they just act out.”
In a brief telephone call, Jones’s mother told The Post that after speaking to her daughter from jail, she doesn’t believe “her mind is really there.”
Brenda Jones added that the murder charges aren’t “right” because abortions are legal in other circumstances.
In 2012, Georgia approved a controversial law that would ban abortions after 20 weeks — the point at which anti-abortion activists say a fetus can feel pain. Abortion rights activists argue that those laws are unconstitutional and impose an arbitrary time frame for fetal viability that isn’t backed by scientific evidence. That bill has been temporarily blocked by a state judge.
And no abortions can be performed in Georgia after the first trimester outside of a hospital, ambulatory surgical facility or licensed abortion facility.
It is unclear what laws the state will use to prosecute Jones.
A pro and anti-abortion activists told the Associated Press that the case is unusual, and perhaps unprecedented in the state.
“I have been involved in the pro-life movement for well over 20 years, and I’m not aware of a situation like this ever,” Genevieve Wilson, a director of the anti-abortion group Georgia Right to Life, told the AP. “I’m very surprised by it.”
“We don’t believe there is any law in Georgia that allows for the arrest of a woman for the outcome of her pregnancy,” added Lynn Paltrow, an attorney and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, whose group is offering free legal aid to Jones.
Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards told WALB that the case is likely to go to a grand jury because of the complex federal and state laws that need to be explored.
“It is an issue that, again, has a lot of particular issues that we’re going to need to evaluate,” Edwards said.
Riggins’s fear now is that in the conservative state of Georgia, a prosecutor will try to make “an example out of” his sister.
“You’re talking possibly your 23-year-old sister is going to be put …” Riggins said, stopping himself as he broke down in tears.
“I just want the story told. And she does need help. And at the end of the day, she is mentally unstable. It doesn’t make it right to take a life too, but still.”
[This post has been updated.]