A Pennsylvania court sentenced Jennifer Ann Whalen to between nine and eighteen months in prison late last week after she provided her daughter with abortion-inducing pills that she had purchased online.
Whalen’s teenaged daughter had sought an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy, Whalen says she couldn’t find any abortion clinics nearby that could have provided safe access. Instead, Whalen purchased a drug cocktail consisting of Misoprostol and Mifepristone, two drugs commonly used in the United States to induce abortions, from an online drugstore overseas for $45, she said. Using those drugs requires the care of a doctor and a prescription. Whalen had neither.
Her daughter wound up in the hospital with severe abdominal pain. At the time of her arrest, Whalen told police she didn’t know she needed a prescription for the drugs.
Whalen’s choices are troubling, but they highlight a reality women are increasingly facing. Anti-choice activists in Pennsylvania and across the country have succeeded at placing new restrictions on abortion providers, making it harder and harder for women to safely terminate an unwanted pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an estimated 87 percent of counties in Pennsylvania don’t have a single abortion provider, leaving nearly half of the state’s women without access to safe abortions.
The absence of safe abortion options has led to an increase in so-called “flea market abortions,” where women who are cut off from reproductive health providers are turning to cheap, untested medications or other dangerous unregulated alternatives to help end pregnancies.
One of those alternatives reared its head in Whalen’s home state. Kermit Gosnell, a former Philadelphia-area doctor was convicted of murder last year after years of performing illegal and unsafe abortions in his unlicensed, unsanitary clinic. Anti-choice lawmakers were quick to cite Gosnell as an example of why they were fighting to close abortion clinics. In reality, though, his horrific treatment of patients illustrates the danger women endure when abortion is out of reach.