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On paper, South Carolina's stance on abortion rights places it in the middle of the pack -- no better or worse than average - but the Palmetto State is a real leader in turning its laws against the women they're supposed to protect.  

The best-known example of South Carolina's predilection for persecuting and prosecuting pregnant women in crisis is Regina McKnight, found guilty of murder under the state's child abuse statute for having used cocaine during a pregnancy that ended in the premature delivery of a stillborn infant.  

Like several other states, South Carolina also specifies that only a licensed physician may perform an abortion.  It might sound as though this law protects the public from victimization by unlicensed charlatans, but since South Carolina already forbids the practice of medicine without a license, all it really does is prevent access to abortion care from otherwise qualified midlevel providers, such as physician's assistants and nurse practitioners.  But this law, too, is being perverted for the purpose of putting women in jail.  

And Regina has some company.

Her name is Gabriela Flores. Only 22 years old, she's already the mother of three young children who needed more than she was able to give them. That's why, even though she only got as far as the fifth grade and doesn't speak English, Gabriela found the courage to travel from Mexico to el norte, where even low-paying, backbreaking farm work was more than she could hope for back home.  Gabriela ended up in Pelion, South Carolina, a smallish place in Lexington County about a hundred miles from Greenville - and a hundred miles from the nearest doctor who could provide an abortion.  

When she became pregnant, not knowing what else to do, Gabriela asked her sister in Mexico to send her some Cytotec, a drug FDA approved for gastric ulcer sufferers, but commonly used by OB/GYNs in medical abortion - and by women around the world in countries where abortion is illegal.    

Mala suerte, chica.  Gabriela is now awaiting trial in South Carolina for aborting her own pregnancy, and for failing to report the abortion to the county coroner.  If convicted, she could face up to two years in state prison and a $1,000 fine.  

"I knew that I was not going to be able to support four kids -- two here and two in Mexico," she said in a handwritten police statement in Spanish. "Please understand me. They need me a lot. They are little. Please forgive me." ...

... A LONG NIGHT

Flores told authorities she took five Cytotec pills at about 9 p.m. Oct. 1, 2004, police records show. By about 3 a.m. Oct. 2, she had aborted the fetus on her bed in her Harvey Berry Road home, reports said. ...

... In her police statement, Flores said the fetus was dead when it was born and that she wrapped it in bedsheets and put it in a bag.

Deputies said Flores later that morning buried the fetus in a 3-foot-deep grave behind her home with the help of Zenida Gonzalez-Gomez, 37, of the same address.

Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Gonzalez-Gomez, who is charged with obstruction of justice and, like Flores, failure to notify the coroner.

Gonzalez-Gomez told deputies she was called to Flores' bedroom a short time after the abortion but said she didn't see or hear the fetus.

She said when Flores asked her to help bury the fetus, she initially refused but changed her mind after Flores said she would "put it in the trash," according to Gonzalez-Gomez's police statement.

Gonzales-Gomez told deputies she didn't immediately report the death because she didn't know how to call an ambulance. But she said she told a neighbor, according to a police report.

Flores in her statement said another woman later told her that, if she had gone to the hospital, she would "end up in jail."

"I was very afraid for my kids because they were going to be left alone," Flores told deputies.

And now that is exactly what will probably happen.  

We talk a lot here about heading into a future that could look like The Handmaid's Tale.  But Gabriela's tale -- The Farm Maid's Tale -- is already here.

Originally posted to moiv on Mon May 02, 2005 at 05:28 PM PDT.

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