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Digital Evidence About Abortion has been Used to Prosecute Women

By: Nina Gupta

Digital evidence, such as texts and search history, has been used for years to prosecute women who terminate their pregnancies. When paramedics found a dead baby in Latice Fisher’s home in Mississippi, the investigators used Fisher’s online footprint to convict her of second-degree murder.

Fisher’s lawyers said that she had given birth to a stillborn baby, but investigators found that Fisher “had searches for how to ‘buy Misoprostol Abortion Pill Online’” ten days prior to the incident. According to Fast Company, a “lung flotation test was used to determine that the baby had been born alive. However, it should be noted that this method is a “controversial and unreliable method likely developed in the 1600s”, which led many people to question the authenticity of the results.

After questioning of the validity of the test from advocates, District Attorney Scott Colom, who had accused Fisher of trying to “induce her own abortion”, dropped the charges against her in the spring of 2018, saying, “I dismissed the charge based on new evidence about whether the child was born alive.”

Purvi Patel, “the first US woman to be sent to prison for inducing her own abortion”, was “sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent.” Investigators found evidence in Patel’s text messages, where she told a friend that she had ordered abortion pills from a Hong Kong pharmacy and that she was planning on taking it.

They also used the lung float test to determine if the baby was stillborn or still alive at birth. Joseph Prahlow, a pathologist who argued in Patel’s favor, stated that many other findings had led him to the conclusion that the baby was born alive.

Gregory J. Davis, a pathologist who believed that the fetus was stillborn, said that Prahlow’s findings didn’t discuss whether the baby died in Patel’s utero or after birth. Davis also said, “Or even if we agree hypothetically that the baby took a breath, that doesn’t mean Ms. Patel did anything wrong. What if she was scared and bleeding herself, and she didn’t clamp the cord in time, because she didn’t know how, and the baby died?”

In both these cases, digital evidence was used to prosecute someone who got an abortion. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, digital footprints could pose an enormous risk for those who consider an abortion.

Laurie Bertran Roberts, who is a spokeswoman for Fisher, also noted that, “Lots of people Google about abortion and then choose to carry out their pregnancies…Thought crimes are not the thing. You’re not supposed to be able to be indicted on a charge of what you thought about.”

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