Jennifer Whalen, a 39-year old mother of three, was just sent to jail in Washingtonville, Pennsylvania because she is charged with the crime of ordering medical abortion pills online for her daughter to terminate her pregnancy. The daughter took the pills on her own accord, during her first trimester, and the pills worked.
This is not a pro-life or pro-choice issue, because if it were, the daughter might be the one jailed (fortunately, an abortion in the first trimester is legal in Pennsylvania). Unfortunately, it was the means used that were found illegal in the state.
When Whalen’s daughter first came to her about the unwanted pregnancy, she told her daughter that she would support any choice she made. The closest clinic to them was 75 miles away. This may have not been a problem if Whalen and her husband didn’t share a car, and if Pennsylvania didn’t also require counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before being allowed the procedure. Whalen was also afraid of telling her husband about the situation. All of these factors combined made it difficult for Whalen’s daughter to get the medical care she urgently needed. It is too often the case that some states (especially in rural areas) are lacking in providing adequate health services for women. The geography of access to abortion in the U.S. alone is enough to push women to extreme decisions. According to The Daily Beast, “Residents of Flagstaff, Ariz., for instance, would have to travel more than 100 miles to Phoenix and spend two days in the city to receive medical abortion pills.”
Abortion clinics are dwindling in some states, nonexistent in others like Wyoming and Kansas.
The pills her daughter took are mifepristone and misoprostol, used together to induce a miscarriage, and it is perfectly legal when prescribed by a doctor. After Whalen’s daughter took the pills, she felt stomach pains and they rushed to the hospital. Whalen told the doctors about the pills, trying to help in the situation, but sharing the information did not help. According to the New York Times, Montour County district attorney Rebecca Warren would later charge Whalen with a felony for “offering medical consultation about abortion without a medical license and with three misdemeanors: for endangering the welfare of a child, dispensing drugs without being a pharmacist and assault.”
This case sends a clear message to women in America: if you live too far from a clinic and cannot afford the time off of work, or the health insurance for an abortion, you could be forced to make a potentially dangerous or illegal choice. Whalen’s sentence is for 9-18 months, 40 community service hours, and one year probation.
From the court’s perspective, there are serious risks to these at-home abortion methods. Mostly because there is a growing problem of women trying to order medical abortion pills online instead of getting them from their medical provider. Women On Waves is one organization that helps prevent unsafe abortions, and provides the names of sites that will only send you fake pills to scam you.
When a woman tried protecting her daughter and they fell short of options, she was found guilty of child endangerment. But with a health care system that doesn’t provide reproductive care for every woman, everywhere in America, there will always be these unnecessary risks that come with unwanted pregnancies. Until we have comprehensive, affordable and accessible health care for all women and families, women will have no choice but to turn to alternative options in times of need.