Earlier this month, Jennifer Whalen, a 39-year-old mother from Pennsylvania, was sentenced to prison for helping her daughter take medication abortion she had ordered online. This case is the direct result of legislation that effectively bans legal abortion by limiting women's access to providers. Congrats, conservatives, you've protected women by forcing them to resort to illegal abortion alternatives and then punishing them for it!
In the New York Times magazine, Emily Bazelon has a really saddening and infuriating interview with Whalen, whose 12 to 18 month sentence will take her away from her husband and her two daughters, 11 and 19. Hooray for family values, right? "I'm scared," said Whalen, "and I'm hurt because I can't be with my family."
According to Whalen, her daughter came to her in the winter of 2012; she told her mom that she was pregnant and didn't want to keep it. But the closest abortion clinic was 75 miles away, and Pennsylvania has a mandatory waiting period law in place that requires women to go through counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before terminating unwanted pregnancies — legislation that has no effect on women's health, obviously, but is just meant to inconvenience anyone seeking an abortion. In addition, the procedure would cost between $300 and $600. Whalen just couldn't afford it:
Whalen works as a personal-care aide at an assisted-living center for the elderly. She didn't have health insurance for her daughter. And she was worried about taking time away from work and her family to make two trips or to stay overnight. At the time, Whalen and her husband shared one car, which they both used to get to work. And she hadn't told her husband about the pregnancy. "I knew he would be upset, and I was protecting the whole family," she said.
After an online search, Whalen found an abortion pill online for $45. She didn't realize that administering it to her daughter was illegal, she says, and it seemed like the only affordable option available. She took her daughter to the emergency room after administering it — her daughter was having stomach pains, which is a side effect of medication abortion — and the ER reported her to child-protective services as a result. A few days later, the police showed up at Whalen's house.
This is what happens when you shut down abortion providers. You take women's options away; you force them to resort to desperate alternatives, to endanger themselves and others, to risk jail time for merely wanting to exercise control over their own bodies.
It's depraved that anyone backing laws that intentionally shut down abortion clinics could call themselves "pro-life." Endangering women is not pro-life. Rendering moms unable to care for their daughters is not pro-family. Jennifer Whalen's case should serve as a sad reminder of the human cost of unfettered anti-choice lunacy — a unnecessary and unconscionable burden that low-income women must disproportionately bear.
Image via Getty.