The Corner

An Illegal Abortifacient, Not Pennsylvania Law, Endangered a Woman’s Health

The pro-abortion Left has found a new cause célèbre in its fight against abortion restrictions. Via Reuters:

Jennifer Ann Whalen, 39, of Washingtonville, a single mother who works as a nursing home aide, pleaded guilty in August to obtaining the miscarriage-inducing pills from an online site in Europe for her daughter, 16, who did not want to have the child.

Whalen was sentenced on Friday by Montour County Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Norton to serve 12 months to 18 months in prison for violating a state law that requires abortions to be performed by physicians.

She was also fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service after her release.

Incensed at the conviction, abortion advocates, such as Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, have pointed to Whalen’s circumstances as evidence that her conviction — and, by extension, Pennsylvania law — is outrageous:

What would drive a mother to make such the “poor” decision of spending $45 for a combination of Misoprostol and Mifepristone from an overseas vendor? Maybe it’s because Whalen claims she didn’t know she needed a doctor’s prescription to get the pills. Maybe it’s because her daughter doesn’t have insurance to cover a hospital abortion. Maybe it’s because she says the nearest clinic is too far away, and she didn’t want to travel out of state.

Before addressing the question of whether Pennsylvania’s abortion restrictions are justifiable, one ought to note that Whalen seems to have been ill-informed from the start. The closest abortion clinic was not out of state; it was in Harrisburg, 75 miles away.

Liberal activist Dan Savage notes that Pennsylvania’s 24-hour waiting period before having an abortion, tacked onto the hour-and-a-half drive between Washingtonville and Harrisburg, would have made this option prohibitive. But to get there he has to speculate:

Jennifer Whalen is a single mom who works full time as a nursing home aide; she most likely makes minimum wage or close to it. Whalen couldn’t afford to take two days off work to drive back and forth to Harrisburg to get her daughter the abortion she needed; Whalen certainly couldn’t afford to spend the night in a hotel in Harrisburg.

But in nearby Williamsburg the median annual salary for a nursing-home aide is $23,122, more than $8,000 above the annual earnings of a minimum-wage employee (given the federal minimum wage of $7.25). Assuming that Whalen was earning at about the rate of her Williamsburg colleagues, it is hard to imagine that the financial burden would have been forbidding.

Moreover, compared to the costs of violating the law — her $1,000 fine, as well as the time that Whalen will spend in prison — the trip to Harrisburg would have been a steal.

Set aside, though, the question of Whalen’s means. The circumstances of her daughter’s case suggest that Pennsylvania’s restrictions are justifiable. According to Reuters, it was not the pregnancy that endangered her daughter’s health, but the abortifacient she used to end that pregnancy: “Her daughter experienced severe cramping and bleeding after taking the pills and Whalen took her to a hospital near her home for treatment, where she was treated for “​an incomplete abortion and a urinary tract infection.”

It is certainly true that the Pennsylvania legislature sought to discourage abortions. But abortion proponents argue — falsely — that restricting who can permit abortions necessarily endangers women’s health. It is just the opposite. As Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors made clear, loose oversight of abortion providers facilitates dangerous procedures performed in unsanitary clinics by unscrupulous butchers. In Bill Clinton’s famous dictum, “safe, legal, and rare,” the first and third terms are necessarily connected. Abortion is safe when it is rare; easy access incentivizes unsafe conditions. But abortion advocates are loath to acknowledge that.

One can sympathize with Jennifer Ann Whalen’s daughter’s panic, and with her mother’s desire to help. And perhaps Whalen broke the law not willfully, but on account of ignorance — in which case, perhaps her sentence is severe. Regardless, Whalen’s case offers no evidence that Pennsylvania legislators have done anything to endanger women. In fact, Whalen’s daughter would have been safer had her mother simply followed the law.

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