Advocacy and Health Policy |

Criminalization of Self-Induced Abortion Intimidates and Shames Women Unnecessarily

Washington, DC – Women should not go to jail for attempting to end their own pregnancies, states a new Position Statement out today from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG.) While abortion is legal in the United States, some women attempt to self-induce abortion without medical assistance. The new Position Statement outlines ACOG specific objections to criminalizing women who attempt to or successfully self-induce an abortion.


Abortion has long been considered a safe and essential component of comprehensive health care for women. Abortions performed by or with guidance from medical professionals are considered the most typical approach. However, women may pursue self-induced abortion for several reasons, ranging from inability to access abortion care in a safe, timely, and affordable manner, to preference for self-care.

“History tells us restrictive or punitive measures do not end abortion or reduce unintended pregnancy,” says Daniel Grossman, M.D., lead author of the position statement. “Many physicians can still recall a time before Roe v. Wade when thousands of women died each year from attempting to self-induce abortion. Historical and contemporary data also supports the understanding that these barriers increase instances of women resorting to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy, including self-inflicted abdominal and bodily trauma and reliance on unqualified abortion providers. Criminalization of self-abortion may increase risks for women by deterring them from seeking needed medical care after a self-abortion attempt.”

Efforts to criminalize self-induced abortion support a larger trend of legislative interference aimed at restricting abortion access and forcing the closure of facilities providing this service. By creating fewer sources for abortion care in a medical setting, self-induced abortion may become more common, and criminalization threatens and shames women considering those options with the threat of prosecution.

Grossman implores lawmakers invested in solutions to lowering rates of abortion and/or unintended pregnancy to “instead focus their efforts on proven methods of success, including increasing access to routine preventive care, particularly comprehensive contraceptive choices, as well as to early medication abortion.”

The Position Statement also outlines opposition to any policies mandating that ob-gyns or other clinicians report to law enforcement women they suspect have attempted self-induced abortion. “Forcing physicians to share information about patients is unnecessary and burdensome interference in the patient-provider relationship,” says Grossman. “These laws violate long established principles of patient privacy, and endanger the foundation of trust patient-provider relationships are built upon.”

Women require access to safe and legal abortion. ACOG is firmly opposed to criminalization of self-induced abortion because it fails to respect a woman’s decision making autonomy and impinges on the sanctity of the patient-provider relationship.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of more than 58,000 members, ACOG strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.