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Woman Charged With Murder For Attempted Coat Hanger Abortion Is Released From Jail Under Plea Deal

Anna Yocca pleaded guilty to a lesser felony charge in exchange for her release from jail after being arrested in 2015 for trying to abort her 24-week-old fetus with a coat hanger.

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After spending more than a year in jail for attempting to self-induce abortion with a coat hanger, 32-year-old Anna Yocca of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, accepted a plea deal on Monday in exchange for her release from jail.

Rutherford County Sheriff's Department / Via buzzfeed.com

Yocca pleaded guilty on January 9 to one class-E felony count of attempted procurement of a miscarriage — which means, "the administration of any substance with the intention to procure the miscarriage of a woman or the use or employment of any instrument or other means with such intent."

The plea deal also included the dismissal of two other charges brought against Yocca during her year in jail: aggravated assault with a weapon and attempted criminal abortion, The Washington Post reports.

Yocca was officially released from jail on Monday evening, a public information officer at the Rutherford County Sherriff's Office told BuzzFeed Health.

In September 2015, Yocca’s boyfriend took her to the hospital in a panic after she tried to abort her 24-week-old fetus using a coat hanger in her bathtub.

"The investigation showed that Yocca went to her upstairs bathroom and filled the tub with warm water ... took a coat hanger and attempted to self-abort her pregnancy,” according to a police report previously provided to BuzzFeed News by the Murfreesboro Post, which first reported the story.

Yocca became “alarmed and concerned for her safety” due to blood loss, the Post reported, and her boyfriend rushed her to the St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital. The self-induced abortion had failed, but the fetus was close enough to viability that it could survive with medical interventions.

Yocca was transported to a hospital in Nashville where staff performed an emergency caesarean section to deliver the 1.5-pound baby boy.

According to the police report, "Baby Yocca," was born with lung, head, and eye problems. Physicians said his quality of life "will be forever harmed." The premature baby was placed in foster care and later adopted.

Because the case did not go to trial, it has not been verified whether the baby's medical problems were a direct result of prenatal injuries incurred from the coat hanger or a result of the baby being born severely premature at 24 weeks, the New York Times reported.

Yocca was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder in December 2015 and faced a series of new indictments over the past year as she waited in jail.

WTVF / Via newschannel5.com

Yocca was arrested on Dec. 9 2015 and held at the Rutherford County Jail on $200,000 bond, according to the Murfreesboro Post. She appeared in court in Nashville by video monitor from the Rutherford jail and pleaded not-guilty. Yocca's boyfriend did not face any charges.

The murder charge was dismissed in February 2016, but several months later Yocca was re-indicted on a new charge of aggravated fetal assault. The indictment was justified by a controversial 2014 law targeting pregnant drug abusers whose babies were harmed by their drug use despite the fact that Yocca has never been accused of illegal drug use, The New York Times reported.

In November of 2016, Yocca was charged again with three felonies: aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted criminal abortion, and attempted procurement of a miscarriage, and faced up to 24 years in jail, NBC News reported. The first two charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Yocca's case gained attention from reproductive health advocacy groups who argued the charges were unconstitutional.

Prosecution of Yocca under "procurement of miscarriage" laws could undermine abortion rights because it puts into law a punishment for a woman ending her pregnancy, Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), told BuzzFeed Health.

"As long as abortion is recognized as a constitutional right in the US, laws that permit the punishment of a woman herself constitute an undue burden on that woman's right to end a pregnancy," she said.

Paltrow also said the laws used to charge Yocca violate the equal protection clause because it's a crime only women can commit.

These same groups fear that the plea deal will discourage pregnant women from seeking help for fear of prosecution and jail time.

"The plea deal should not validate the punishment of women trying to have abortions," Paltrow said.

The worry of many advocacy groups, said Paltrow, is that women will avoid medical care after a pregnancy loss, under natural circumstances or otherwise, for fear of punishment.

Tennessee law permits abortion in the first trimester, in the second trimester before viability, and only after viability if there is a risk to the woman’s health or life.

F11photo / Via gettyimages.com

Additionally, new laws passed in 2015 require that all women seeking an abortion receive in-person, state-directed counseling and wait 48 hours before they can return for their procedure, which necessitates two trips to the clinic.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health research group, in 2011 96% of counties in Tennessee had no abortion clinics and 63% of women in Tennessee women lived in these counties. In 2015, there were seven clinics in the entire state — which is down from 10 in 2008, the Daily News Journal reported. There was no clinic in Rutherford, where Yocca resided.

Caroline Kee is a health writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Caroline Kee at caroline.kee@buzzfeed.com.

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