Commentary Abortion

When Access To Abortion Is Too Difficult, Women Turn To Do-It-Yourself Means

Robin Marty

We still sort of have "legal and rare," it's the "safe" that's beginning to be a problem.

Mississippi Republican Bubba Carpenter suggested a few coat hanger abortions is just what we might need to restore “moral values” and end abortion. He no doubt thought the whole idea of do-it-yourself, dangerous abortion practices is hyperbole made up by pro-choice activists trying to keep clinics open.

It isn’t. And they don’t just happen where abortions are illegal, either. They occur even when the procedure is legal, but just made too hard, too shameful and too expensive to obtain.

As more regulations pass making abortions extremely long, extremely costly procedures, the right to choose literally becomes the right to choose… if you can. Women on the Web, an international agency that helps provide medication abortions to women in low access areas, is reporting a surge of new queries, often in countries where abortion is legal but women just can’t manage to get one in a timely manner. 

Addressing rising abortions in New Zealand, the group mentions the issues occurring in the United States as well.

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Women on Web…has reported that its help desk has seen a rising number of inquiries from women in developed countries where abortion is, in theory, available…Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, the Dutch physician who founded Women on Web (and before it, Women on Waves, which runs ocean-going campaigns), says New Zealand is no different from other countries, like Britain and the United States, where abortion is accessible in theory but, in practice, “not for some groups of women”.

What happens when abortion is legal but nearly impossible to get, such as in states like Mississippi which may soon be without a clinic? You get situations like the one in Great Britain, where a mother of five died attempting to induce a miscarriage by drinking a toxic amount of vinegar, because she read on the internet that it would cause an abortion.

Do-it-yourself abortions, despite their dangers, were already on the rise in the early 2000’s even before states began their obsession with making abortion legal in name only. Carole Joffe wrote in 2006:

Most commonly, they ingest a whole bottle of quinine pills, with castor oil…we try to get them to the ER before their cardiac rhythm is interrupted…Sometimes they douche with very caustic products like bleach. We had a patient, a teen, who burned herself so badly with bleach that we couldn’t even examine her, her vaginal tissue was so painful….”

“Our local hospital tells me they see 12-20 patients per year, who have already self-induced or had illegal abortions. Some make it, some don’t. They are underage or poor women mostly, and a few daughters of pro-life families…”

Carpenter thinks we should return to coat hanger abortions? 

We may already be there.

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