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Victim of S.C. abortion restriction
Why did Gabriela Flores go to jail?

By Michele Bollinger | May 20, 2005 | Page 2

GABRIELA FLORES sat in a South Carolina jail for four months--just for having an abortion.

Last fall, the 22-year-old immigrant farmworker and mother of three from Pelion, S.C., became pregnant and took misoprostol, a medicine used in the abortion drug RU-486, to terminate her pregnancy. Flores' sister sent her the tablets from Mexico.

Flores is charged with violating a state ban on "illegal" abortions--a law that was 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, some sources said. Eventually, they 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 20 years in prison. And far from supporting a so-called "culture of life," Lexington County--where Flores lives--sends more people to death row than any other county in the state.

The state is also one of the most difficult places in the country 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." Eighty-seven percent 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 only physicians are allowed to perform abortions.

Flores' case illustrates the human cost of these restrictions. Estimated to have been 16 weeks pregnant at the time, Flores could not have gotten even a surgical abortion in South Carolina. Instead, she would have had to travel two-and-a-half hours to Charlotte, N.C. to receive services. That would have meant missing 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. Her job did not have 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. Now she faces jail and losing her children--for trying to exercise her right to choose abortion.

When Democratic Party politicians talk about seeking "common ground" with the anti-choice bigots and--as Hillary Clinton did in January--condemn abortion as "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. It also illustrates the urgency behind building a new, grassroots movement to stop these attacks on our rights.

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