Coat-hanger abortion suspect enters not-guilty plea

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A woman accused of using a coat hanger to end her pregnancy in 2015 entered a not-guilty plea to new charges that included attempted criminal abortion.

On Nov. 12, Anna Yocca, 32, of Murfreesboro was served with three new charges — one count each of aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage and attempted criminal abortion — after her case was presented a second time to a Rutherford County grand jury.

Yocca originally was charged in December 2015 with attempted first-degree murder. Those charges were reduced in the spring to aggravated assault.

The new charges replace the original charge. Yocca said Monday that she understands the new charges, and she entered a plea of not guilty via closed-circuit video in Judge David Bragg’s Rutherford County Circuit courtroom.

Yocca filled a bathtub with water, “took a coat hanger and attempted to self-abort her pregnancy” in September 2015, according to Murfreesboro Police Detective Tommy Roberts' police report.

Her boyfriend took her to St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital here, and she later was transferred to St. Thomas Midtown in Nashville where Yocca gave birth to the child two weeks after the attempted abortion, according to a Nov. 10 opinion from Judge Royce Taylor of Rutherford County Circuit Court.

Her pregnancy was at 24 weeks, and medical professionals were able to save the child, who weighed 1.5 pounds. At the time, the infant was placed in the custody of the Department of Children Services.

On Nov. 10 just two days before the new charges were filed, Taylor denied a request from Public Defender Gerald Melton to drop her previous charges.

Melton argued that the previous assault charge should be dropped because Tennessee’s assault statute does not precludes charging someone for committing a “lawful act,” and because abortions are legal, the act was lawful.

The statute specifically includes fetuses as potential victims of assault and the legislative intent was for “an assault upon a fetus to be included within the assault statute," Taylor countered. "This court find defendants’s prosecution to be proper under the aggravated assault statute so long as the preliminary question of whether defendant’s actions were lawful.”

The judge then concluded that the child, whose gender was not released, qualifies as a victim under Tennessee law and a jury would have to decide whether Yocca’s actions were lawful.

The story attracted pro-choice protesters to Yocca’s arraignment in February.

Since Dec. 9, 2015, Yocca has been held in the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center on $200,000 bond.

USA TODAY


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