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Tenn. woman pleads guilty to felony in attempted coat hanger abortion

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Anna Yocca was 24 weeks pregnant in September 2015, when Tennessee authorities said she climbed into a bathtub filled with water and drove a wire coat hanger into her womb.

The alleged “self-abortion” didn’t work. Panicked at the sight of her blood in the water, she reportedly rushed to a nearby hospital, where she gave birth to a 1.5-pound baby boy.

Three months later, authorities charged Yocca with attempted murder, saying the child would be “forever harmed” by injuries from her attempt to abort the fetus. She was arrested and held in jail on $200,000 bond.

Now, after a year awaiting trial in the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center — during which charges against her were reduced and then refiled — she has been released. This week, she pleaded guilty to attempted procurement of a miscarriage, a felony that could have landed her in prison for up to six years, the Daily News Journal reported.

Yocca, 32, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., was sentenced to one year as part of the plea deal and received credit for time served, according to the News Journal. The two other charges she was facing, aggravated assault with a weapon and attempted criminal abortion, were dismissed under the agreement.

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said prosecutors had used a “vague statute” to pursue an “unconstitutional” case against Yocca.

“This plea deal should not be understood as validation of arresting and punishing pregnant women who have or try to have abortions,” Paltrow said in a statement, “but rather a frightening example of how the criminal law system can be used to bully and punish pregnant women and mothers — with or without a conviction or valid law.”

An attorney for Yocca did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

Yocca’s case has drawn national attention, striking a nerve with people on both sides of the abortion debate. News of her arrest went viral at the time. Her arraignment hearing in December 2015 drew protesters from around the country and inspired the hashtag #FreeAnnaYocca. For abortion rights advocates, her case represented the extreme steps women will take to terminate a pregnancy, particularly in states such as Tennessee, where abortion restrictions are tight. Opponents argued that it underscored the need for laws designed to protect unborn fetuses.

Yocca’s release comes at a time when abortion providers have come under intense scrutiny from congressional Republicans, who have pledged to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding from Planned Parenthood. President-elect Donald Trump has also taken aim at abortion rights, saying on the campaign trail that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who terminate pregnancies and vowing to appoint Supreme Court justices who would scale back or overturn Roe v. Wade.

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Yocca’s fetus was on the edge of viability when police said she tried to poke her womb with a coat hanger. After she gave birth, the baby boy was placed into the custody of state children’s services, according to the News Journal. The child could face damages to his lungs, eyes and heart caused by the coat hanger, as The Washington Post previously reported.

Police said doctors and nurses who treated Yocca told them that she had wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

“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,” a police representative 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.”

Yocca’s initial attempted murder charge was reduced to aggravated assault. At the time, her defense attorney moved for the charge to be dismissed, telling New Channel 5 “the prosecution is absurd, illogical and unconstitutional.”

In November, a grand jury handed down an indictment with three new charges: aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage and attempted abortion, all felonies. Combined, those charges could have carried a 24-year prison sentence, according to the News Journal.

Tennessee woman who attempted coat hanger abortion faces three new felony charges

Tennessee is one of more than two dozen states that mandate waiting periods on abortions and is home to some of the country’s more stringent abortion restrictions. A ballot measure adopted in 2014 amended the Tennessee constitution to state that nothing in it “secures or protects a right to abortion.” A law passed the following year requires women seeking abortions to make two trips to a clinic, 48 hours apart, to consult with a doctor before they can undergo the procedure. The state also requires clinics that perform more than 50 surgical abortions each year to be regulated as outpatient surgery centers.

The state had seven abortion clinics in 2015, according to the News Journal, down from 10 in 2008. In some places, women must travel 100 miles or more to reach the nearest one. Though state law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of gestation, none of the state’s clinics performs abortions beyond 16 weeks, according to the Tennessean.

There are no abortion clinics in Rutherford County, where Yocca was charged.

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