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

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.

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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  • coralsea

    The whole shame issue — shame over female sexuality and “naughty sex” when the parties were supposed to wait until they were properly married — is definitely behind the failure of many young people to plan ahead and use contraception.  These kids (and the occasional awkward or seriously repressed adult) end up contracting STDs or getting pregnant because of the shame factor.


    I have long marveled at the magical thinking of many fundamentalist Christians who actually believe that if you shame and browbeat others regarding sex and contraception, then the shamed and browbeaten will abstain.  Perhaps the question we need to began asking loudly and insistently is whether damage to the physical and/or mental health of people they profess to want to “help” is worth upholding their OPINIONS (and religions are, ultimately, opinions that are simply underpinned by faith) regarding morality.


    Those whose religious, spiritual, or secular humanist desires for compassion and the well-being of others shouldn’t, in my opinion, be insisting that those who are vulnerable be guilt-tripped into harm.  

  • natasha101

    Except that in Great Britain, abortions are paid for by tax dollars & are readily available so all this example shows is that some women, no matter how much access they have to abortion, will do stupid & dangerous things. You need to find a better example because this one doesn’t work. 

  • purplemistydez

    Like pre Roe vs. Wade.  If abortion is not accessible, women will do it themselves.  Instead of coat hangers, it will be pharmaceutical drugs bought on the internet or through friends.  Making abortion illegal does nothing to deter a woman who wants an abortion.  The choice is between dead fetus or dead fetus and dead woman. 

  • coralsea

    What we are talking about are women who engage in risky self-treatment because they have no other reasonable option, including some women who have been so beaten down and shamed by moralizing control freaks that they would rather risk their lives than reach out to family or others for the financial and logistical assistance to travel to a remote location–and then cool their heels during some stupid waiting period.


    I have known women who simply haven’t bothered with birth control (the pill would have made them fat) and had several abortions without blinking an eye (at least at the time).  This was foolish behavior that is probably founded in some pathology; but they are by no means representative of the vast majority of women who have abortions.


    Lack of reasonable access (e.g., money, logistics) plus the increasingly harsh shaming going on regarding women’s sexuality will, I have no doubt, lead to desperate and deadly actions–even on the part of “smart” women.  Certainly, enough women died during illegal abortions back before Roe v Wade that, in the 1970s, at least, a lot of fairly conservative people (including Romney’s family, before his recent revelation, and my mother, who is a fundamentalist Christian, but who lost both a friend and a cousin to complications from DIY abortions) accepted the decision.  It’s too bad that a lot of them seem to have forgotten those dark days.  Reasonable access to abortion is likely to become a VERY REAL PROBLEM, even for the non-stupid, if we continue down the path we are on.

  • colleen

    I have long marveled at the magical thinking of many fundamentalist Christians who actually believe that if you shame and browbeat others regarding sex and contraception, then the shamed and browbeaten will abstain.

    I’m pretty sure that the shaming and browbeating is reward enough for them.

  • ljean8080

    in Great Britian,at least covered by National Health.this woman in GB had something else going on with her.

  • coralsea

    Colleen — unfortunately, I think you are right!