In long-awaited court action, all charges were finally dismissed against Kenlissia Jones, the African-American Georgia woman who had been arrested based on the claim that she had used medication she obtained online to terminate a pregnancy. Pregnancy Justice, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization, provided substantial legal assistance to Ms. Jones and her criminal defense lawyer.
This case raises significant issues in light of President Trump’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, and repeated claims by anti-choice organizations that they do not support punishment of women who have abortions. Despite these claims, no anti-choice organization opposed Ms. Jones’s arrest or any one of many such arrests documented by Pregnancy Justice.
In June 2015, after seeking medical assistance, Ms. Jones was arrested and held without bond on the charge of “malice murder,” based on the claim that by using the medication misoprostol in an effort to have an abortion at home, she had caused the death of her fetus.
Following intense media attention, the Dougherty County prosecutor concluded that same month that there was in fact no legal authority in Georgia for charging a pregnant woman with the crime of murder for having terminated her own pregnancy. Although she was released from jail and the murder charge was dropped, Jones still faced a misdemeanor charge of “possession of a dangerous drug” despite the fact that this medication is used safely around the world to address a wide variety of obstetric and gynecological health care needs, including the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage and the safe termination of pregnancy.
Ms. Jones experienced clear violations of her constitutional rights including the right to medical privacy, and then endured arrest, detention, and denial of medical care. Even after her release from jail on the murder charge, the threat of a conviction and imprisonment hung over her for nearly two years while her legal advocates pressed motions to dismiss the possession charge.
Ms. Jones only learned ten months after the court took action that the charge of possession had been dismissed in May of 2016 at the request of the Dougherty County prosecutor. The prosecutor had filed papers seeking dismissal of the case, saying “to go forward would require extensive litigation and almost certain appellate action for a relatively minor misdemeanor.” It appears that neither the prosecutor nor the court notified Ms. Jones or her counsel.
Ms. Jones’ arrest and prolonged ordeal demonstrates that it is not just the right to abortion that is at stake but the right to be free from punishment through a criminal justice system that is extremely punitive, often dysfunctional, and overwhelmingly unable to secure justice for low-income people and people of color.