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Criminalizing Abortion in South Carolina

Why Did Gabriela Flores Go to Jail?

by MICHELE BOLLINGER

Gabriela Flores sat in a South Carolina jail for four months — just for having an abortion.

Last fall, the 22-year-old immigrant farm worker and mother of three from Pelion, South Carolina, became pregnant and took misoprostol, a medicine that is used in RU-486, to terminate her pregnancy. Flores’ sister sent her the Cytotec tablets from Mexico.

Flores is charged with violating a state ban on "illegal" abortions — a law that is supposed to protect women from back-alley abortionists, not to send them to jail for having one. If convicted, Flores could face prison time and a costly fine.

Flores’ case reflects a new level of madness among the anti-abortion bigots. According to a May 1 article in The State newspaper, state officials initially tried to charge Flores with murder — with the hope of seeking the death penalty, a source later said.

Eventually, this den of crackpots realized that a murder rap wouldn’t stick — so the charges were reduced to the illegal abortion charge.

But no one can explain why Flores spent four months in jail with no assistance.

"I don’t know how anyone could be forgotten like that," said Angela Hooton of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

The Flores case sharply reflects the racism, sexism and anti-immigrant fervor that South Carolina officials are known for. In 2001, South Carolina convicted a 24-year-old African-American woman, Regina McKnight, with homicide after her baby was stillborn — blaming her drug use for the death. She was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

And far from supporting a so-called "culture of life," Lexington County where Flores lives sends more people to the state’s death row than any other county in the state.


A State Without Choice

Leading politicians, from Democrat Hillary Clinton to Republican Bill Frist, drone on and on about how ërare’ they think abortion should be.

South Carolina grants them their wish. It is one of the most difficult places in the United States to obtain an abortion.

NARAL Pro Choice America granted the state an F in its 2004 report, "Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States." In South Carolina, 87% of counties have no abortion provider; married women are subject to a husband consent law; the state imposes biased counseling and mandatory delays on women seeking abortions and requires that only physicians perform abortions.

Flores’ case illustrates the human cost of these restrictions. Estimated to have been sixteen weeks pregnant at the time, Flores could not have even gotten a surgical abortion in South Carolina.

Instead, she would have had to travel two-and-a-half hours away to Charlotte, North Carolina, just to receive services. Flores would have had to miss at least two days of work, jeopardizing her job as a migrant worker.

And to top it off — the cost for an abortion at that stage is around $700 — essentially eliminating this as an option for Flores, who brought home about $150 a week picking lettuce at Rawls Farm in Pelion, SC. Her job did not provide medical benefits — denying her a full range of options in dealing with her pregnancy.

It’s no wonder, then, that Flores used misoprostol, an over-the-counter medication that is inexpensive and easy to acquire in Mexico. So now, she faces imprisonment.

Jail time for trying to exercise her right to choose abortion — this is the real tragedy involving abortion today.

When Democratic Party politicians talk about seeking "common ground" with anti-choice bigots and — as Hillary Clinton did in January — condemn abortion as a "tragic choice," they aid in the criminalization of women like Gabriela Flores.

Flores’ story shames both Democratic Party politicians and the pro-choice lobbying groups that fund them.

But it is stories like these that illustrate the urgency behind building a new, grassroots movement to stop these attacks on our rights.

MICHELE BOLLINGER can be reached at keepyourlawsoffmybody@yahoo.com.

Read more about the fight for choice at the www.keepyourlawsoffmybody.org.