Despite federal protections for abortion access, many states across the country have criminal laws that may criminalize women who end their own pregnancies or medical professionals who provide abortion. Some of these laws have been on the books for centuries, and could spring back into effect if Roe v. Wade were overturned or weakened; some are currently enforced; and some are newly introduced by anti-abortion politicians who want to push abortion out of reach and punish women and doctors.

When a woman has decided to end a pregnancy and is unable to obtain an abortion from a health care provider for any reason, she may induce her abortion on her own. In some states, that could mean risking prosecution and jail. NIRH is working to ensure that however a woman chooses to end a pregnancy, she can do so safely, effectively, and without fear of prosecution.

NIRH firmly believes that abortion is health care, not a criminal act.

With the implications of a gutted Roe, and fewer abortion clinics open and accessible, we now face the perfect storm for the criminalization of women and medical professionals for seeking or providing abortions. The number of women who manage their own abortion, out of choice or necessity, would likely surge. Archaic laws criminalizing abortion could become enforceable and states could introduce new legislation to ban abortion outright, as they have in Ohio.

In 2018 and 2019, NIRH supported statewide campaigns in Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, and Michigan to decriminalize people seeking abortions and providers who offer abortion care.

Wisconsin

In 2019, NIRH launched a campaign in partnership with the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH) to educate Wisconsinites and legislators about Wisconsin’s dangerously outdated law that criminalize abortion. Without the protections provided by Roe in place, Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion law that would criminalize doctors who perform abortions could be enforced, making them guilty of a felony. A provider could be prosecuted and punished with up to six years in prison for performing a safe, common health care procedure. Coinciding with Wisconsin’s medical community’s annual lobby day, billboards in Madison as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Google Search ads provided information about the outdated and dangerous nature of Wisconsin’s law — and emphasized that abortion should be treated as health care, not a criminal act. The campaign received media coverage from Wisconsin Public Radio and Rewire News, among other outlets.  

“Across the country, the conversations around abortion access and restrictions has reached a fever pitch. While Wisconsinites have also ramped up their advocacy efforts around abortion access in the state, the billboards around Madison made possible by NIRH, have empowered and emboldened people to more confidently fight back against bad policies and political agendas.” – Sara Finger, Founder & Executive Director of WAWH

New York

At the start of 2019, NIRH launched a campaign to educate New Yorkers and legislators about how New York’s previous abortion law criminalized women who sought to end their pregnancy on their own, without involving a medical professional. New York’s criminal law also had a chilling effect on medical providers. Billboards in Albany as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Google Search ads provided information about the outdated and dangerous nature of New York’s law — and emphasized that abortion should be treated as health care, not a criminal act.

Ohio

In the fall of 2018, NIRH launched a campaign in Ohio in partnership with NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation to educate the public about House Bill 565, a new piece of legislation that would outlaw abortions in Ohio, subjecting women to criminalization, jail time, and even the death penalty. Under this bill, anyone who violates the law – a woman, medical professionals, friends of the woman who drive her to the clinic or help her purchase abortion pills — could be charged with murder, including aggravated murder, which carries with it the death penalty or life in prison.

Michigan

In the fall of 2018, NIRH launched an advocacy campaign in Michigan in partnership with RECLAIM to educate the general public and legislators about Michigan’s dangerously outdated laws on the books that criminalize abortion. Without protections provided by Roe in place, Michigan’s 1931 abortion law would criminalize doctors who perform abortions, making them guilty of a felony. Doctors could be prosecuted and punished with up to two years in jail for performing a safe, common health care procedure.