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Tenn. woman charged with attempted murder for failed coat hanger abortion

Anna Yocca was 24-weeks pregnant when police say she filled a bathtub with water, untwisted the wire of a coat hanger and plunged it into her womb in an attempt at “self abortion.”

When she saw blood in the water, Yocca panicked. Afraid for her safety, she called her boyfriend and he took her to the hospital. Later she was transferred to a larger facility in Nashville, Tenn., where she delivered a 1.5-pound baby boy.

The infant faces a life attached to an oxygen tank, the Murfreesboro Post reported, because of the early birth and damage to his lungs, eyes and heart caused by the coat hanger. His mother is facing an indictment for first-degree attempted murder.

Yocca, 31, was arrested last week, three months after her alleged abortion attempt, the Associated Press reported. She is being held on a $200,000 bond; jail officials told the AP they don’t know whether she has a lawyer.

“The whole time [Yocca] was concerned for her health, her safety, and never gave any attention to the health and safety to the unborn child,” Sergeant Kyle Evans, a spokesman for the Murfreesboro, Tenn., police, told local CBS affiliate WTVF. “Those injuries will affect this child for the rest of his life, all caused at the hands of his own mother.”

Nurses and doctors who treated Yocca told the TV station that she spoke about wanting to end the pregnancy while in the hospital.

Antiabortion activists say that Tennessee’s laws protect unborn children and their mothers. But critics argue that such laws make it harder for women to access legal abortions and more likely to turn to unsafe, illegal alternatives.

Tennessee has relatively tight restrictions on abortions. Women must make two trips to a clinic, 48 hours apart, before they can undergo the procedure. As of 2011, 63 percent of Tennessee women lived in a county without an abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The state allows abortions up until the point of viability, around 24 weeks, with exceptions afterward for the life and health of the mother. But no clinics offer abortions after 16 weeks, according to the Tennessean.

A study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project conducted after the state passed legislation imposing stricter standards on abortion providers, which resulted in the closure of about 20 clinics, found that at least 100,000 Texas women have attempted a self-induced abortion, usually by taking hormonal pills, alcohol, illicit drugs, herbs or homeopathic remedies or by getting hit or punched in the abdomen.

“We suspect that abortion self-induction will increase as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access,” the authors wrote.

In some cases, women who conduct self-induced abortions can be prosecuted for feticide.

In April, an Indiana woman became the first pregnant woman to be charged, convicted and imprisoned for feticide. The woman, 33-year-old Purvi Patel, said that her baby had died during a miscarriage. Prosecutors said Patel had attempted an illegal self-induced abortion and then left her baby to die.

Fetal homicide is a crime in 38 states, including Tennessee.

In 2012, the state passed legislation expanding the definition of “another person” to include fetuses at all stages of development, making it one of 23 states with such a broad definition. People could now be prosecuted for harm done to a fetus or embryo.

The law exempts only pregnant women who undergo a “lawful medical or surgical procedure” performed by a licensed medical professional — in other words, a legal abortion.

But Yocca’s coat hanger abortion was far from that.

Abortions with coat hangers are among the most grisly ways a woman can attempt to end her own pregnancy. They’re usually considered a relic of the time before Roe v. Wade and are held up by abortion rights advocates as a symbol of what life without abortion access looked like.

But they are not entirely a thing of the past: In 2009, three Tacoma, Wash., doctors wrote a case study on a 24-year-old woman who was pregnant with twins and who attempted a coat-hanger abortion.

After extensive questioning from her doctors, “she confessed to attempting to end her pregnancy earlier that day by passing a coat hanger deep into her vagina until she felt a ‘pop,’ followed by a gush of fluid and the onset of her abdominal pain.”

The woman suffered sepsis, blood in her abdomen, acute respiratory distress and an infection in her uterus. Both of her twins died.

Yocca’s indictment came after a months-long grand jury investigation into her September abortion. She is due in court Dec. 21.

Correction: An initial version of this article incorrectly stated that Tennessee bars abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Tennessee allows abortions up to the point of viability, around 24 weeks, with exceptions for the life and health of the mother.