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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Again, a complete and utter lack of words

by folkbum

When last Dad29 rendered me speechless, he was busy blaming women soldiers for being sexually assaulted. Nowhere to go but up, right? Wrong:
We all know that the coathanger is THE symbol of "bad-old-days" abortions. It is iconic--desperate women had to do something--anything--to become un-pregnant.

But the coathanger bespeaks a syndrome which may not be directly abortion-related. [. . .] It's a grown-up version of the 2-year-old's temper tantrum
I elided material Dad29 quotes--if you read it, it may well turn your stomach, too--that suggests not simply that women who self-induced abortions pre-Roe were just certifiable rather than in desperate straits to end their pregnancy. No, the quoted material also suggests that self-induced abortions didn't really happen that often anyway.

This is, simply, a lie. See, for example, this paper (.pdf) from the Guttmacher institute:
In 1930, abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women—nearly one-fifth (18%) of maternal deaths recorded in that year. The death toll had declined to just under 1,700 by 1940, and to just over 300 by 1950 (most likely because of the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, which permitted more effective treatment of the infections that frequently developed after illegal abortion). By 1965, the number of deaths due to illegal abortion had fallen to just under 200, but illegal abortion still accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth that year. And these are just the number that were officially reported; the actual number was likely much higher. [. . .]

Even in the early 1970s, when abortion was legal in some states, a legal abortion was simply out of reach for many. Minority women suffered the most: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 1972 alone, 130,000 women obtained illegal or self-induced procedures, 39 of whom died.
Even today in countries that ban abortion, women are self-inducing abortions. The coat hanger may not be the implement of choice (these days it sounds like ingesting herbs is it), but the history (and present) of self-induced abortion is real and dangerous.

I am reminded of this post I read just last week about exactly this issue, which links to an op-ed in the New York Times:
I am a retired gynecologist, in my mid-80s. My early formal training in my specialty was spent in New York City, from 1948 to 1953, in two of the city’s large municipal hospitals.

There I saw and treated almost every complication of illegal abortion that one could conjure, done either by the patient herself or by an abortionist — often unknowing, unskilled and probably uncaring. [. . .]

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger” — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.
Well, I guess there were words, after all. And there are more I will not say out loud, since this is a family blog.

Morning update: See additional comments from Zach, capper, and Michael.

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