Who Needs Roe?

…when rich women have California and poor women have Cytotec? In an unbelievably offensive article, a writer for the Times assures all of us that even if Roe is overturned, we have no reason to fear a return to the days of knitting needles and coat hangers — we’ll have this great ulcer drug that we can use to illegally terminate pregnancies! And the best news — the chances of infection with Cytotec are way less than they are if you go the old-school coat-hanger route. Aren’t we gals so lucky that technology helps us out, and that the Times is looking out for us?

They even have the nerve to title the article “Abortion Might Outgrow Its Need for Roe v. Wade.”

Because it’s not like the government will catch on and pull Cytotec off the shelves, or make it much more difficult to get (I mean, it’s only been featured prominently in the New York Times; who reads that?). And it’s not like there are any problems with forcing women to misuse an ulcer drug in order to covertly terminte their pregnancies — hey, little lady, as long as you can try to terminate your pregnancy, you have nothing to complain about. The shame, you say, of having to get an underground procedure done, and being scared to go to the hospital if something goes wrong? You should be ashamed! You did have sex, after all. It doesn’t matter that you might be married, might already have kids to support, might not able to afford another child, might have been raped, might have been impregnated by a family member, might be 12, might just not be ready or able to handle having a child — you got yourself into this mess, and you shouldn’t be whining about having to undergo a shame-inducing, dangerous method to end the pregnancy. And when you show up at the hospital with an infection or when you give birth to a child with severe birth defects because that’s what Cytotec sometimes does, and the doctor is treating you like a criminal, well, you should have been more responsible.

Cytotec works 80 to 90 percent of the time when administered by a doctor in clinic conditions — it’s not as if women who are getting it illegally will have any problems knowing what dosage to take, or when in pregnancy they can take it. Clearly, this article is onto something — who needs Roe when we can have illegal abortions that aren’t as dangerous as before?

Finally, this is one of those articles that leads me to ask, “What’s the real story here?” From this set of facts, the Times gleaned, “If/when abortion becomes illegal, women will still be able to have them, just illegally.” I read the same set of facts and I find, “Women are already having illegal abortions in this country. That says something about access to medical care for low-income women.”

In 2000, researchers at three obstetrics and gynecology clinics in New York noted that low-income immigrant women were already using misoprostol as an alternative to going to an abortion clinic, because it was easier and less expensive. They got the pills from doctors, pharmacies, relatives and from contacts in other countries.

That gets one paragraph. One. The news isn’t what might happen if. It’s what is happening and why. And what is happening is that low-income and immigrant women lack access to healthcare in this country, and are turning to illegal methods instead of being able to get safe, legal procedures. That’s a story, and it’s a tragic one. But I suppose the plight of poor and immigrant women isn’t so important to the staff at the Times; more valuable is issuing a good sedative to middle and upper-income women — you know, the women with more political power — to remind them that their rights aren’t really being threatened.

Where’s the “liberal media” when we need it?


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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14 Responses to Who Needs Roe?

  1. Really, I’m not sure that I understand the projection of emotional outrage over this article. The authors aren’t saying that it will be SUPER WICKED AWESOME if Roe is overturned and abortions become DIY, because they will be SOOOO EASY – the article is pointing out that technology is outpacing any government’s ability to control free will on the matter. FACT: In the past, DIY abortions were very crude and pretty dangerous. FACT: In the current technology environment, with easy access to fairly cheap medications, less so.

    Compared with illegal abortions using other methods, the rate of infection with misoprostol was 12 times lower, researchers have found.

    That being said, the article hedges:

    Dr. Creinin added that “compared to when abortion was illegal before Roe, misoprostol is still safer.” But as with any illegal drug, there is a period of elevated risk before users discover the proper dosages and protocols.

    And:

    But researchers at the University of Rio de Janeiro reported that they also found that among babies born with certain birth defects, a high percentage of the mothers used misoprostol.

    Seems like the article counterbalances any positive angle with very clear negative consequences as well. But (as I happen to have looked at before) the drug is relatively safe as hell.

    And as to your statement:

    Because it’s not like the government will catch on and pull Cytotec off the shelves, or make it much more difficult to get (I mean, it’s only been featured prominently in the New York Times; who reads that?).

    The article states:

    When the government in response restricted access to misoprostol, drug smugglers created an illegal black market, Ms. Chacham said.

    Again, with a negative qualifier:

    But American women may not be as receptive, said Norma McCorvey, who in 1973 was known as Jane Roe, the woman who brought the case that legalized abortion, but who has since argued for the reversal of the court’s decision.

    “When women start using these self-induced drugs, and start seeing body parts in their potty, they’re going to go bananas,” Miss McCorvey said. “And it’s going to be horrible.”

    Seems like a fair presentation.

    As for “who reads the NYTimes,” lots of people. Which is why pro-life individuals that want to ban abortion may get the idea that without a change of public opinion it will be futile (doubtful, but …), people that need options in the event that their locality bans abortion will know about them as the info is widely disseminated, some can go, “hmmmm, that’s interesting,” etc.

    Bottom line: the article is discussing the FACT that if Roe goes away, there will be a different set of options (better than the 70’s, but with many negative drawbacks) from the last time abortion was illegal in parts of the country.

    Look at steroids, for example – the government has unfairly demonized them with junk science and made them schedule III substances, but it’s still pretty damn easy to get them. Comparatively, given that abortion will no doubt still be legal in wide sections of the country (if Roe goes), and given the ease of drug delivery via the internet, and given the demand, any attempt to squash private ability to get drugs 12x safer than back alley abortions will be a practical failure on the part of the Feds. (not to mention a political killer for any admin that goes after a fed ban on abortion)

    This angle is certainly newsworthy. And from your perspective, it should even be considered ameliorating news to Roe’s potential demise. (Potential) – popular will through the market will fight draconian legislation.

    It seems like you are taking out your anger (” In an unbelievably offensive article”) at the idea Roe would be repealed on some writer for the NYTimes that is merely presenting a relevant scenario, not advocating it. Just my $.02.

    And this is the tip of the iceberg – in the next two decades, a lot of issues that people try to legislate regarding free will and biotechnology will be harder and harder to control.

  2. egalia says:

    Thanks for the outrage. As poor a choice as this is, it beats no choice which is what many women in my state and elsewhere live with. I feel the need to broadcast the information in spite of your very good points. In my state, only 6 percent of the counties have an abortion provider and only 46 percent of Tennessee women live in those counties. Poverty is rampant and many women can’t even afford birth control, let alone cough up the $500 for an abortion.

    It sucks, but if all poor women can get are crumbs, we’ll take the lousy $2 abortion even though it may not work and may cause birth defects. It beats the certainty of no abortion. You know if they make the drug illegal, it will immediately be available on the black market.

    I wonder how many women in the U.S. are aleady availing themselves of the $2 abortion. It was news to me.

  3. Jill says:

    Egalia, I agree — any option is better than none. This is important information for women to have. It just makes me angry that the Times basically brushes this off as “good enough.” It’s not. We have a right to healthcare, and it’s infuriating that so many women don’t.

  4. egalia says:

    Jill, I do think the article is remarkably upbeat or even flippant. It just goes to show how bad things are when news of risky $2 abortions is good news. Still, this does take the edge off the desperation that so many women live with.

    Thanks for the link!

  5. binky says:

    This article is on target about everyone in Brazil (or, most women) knowing that cytotec can be used to induce abortion, and that doing it without a doctor’s supervision can lead to complications. Before the government restricted access, it was as easy to get access to many drugs we see as presciption in the US (except opiates, for example). I don’t know that I’d agree with this statement, however.

    “If I were a woman, I’d rather go to Brazil than Mississippi, because at least there they’ve learned how to do it.”

    It’s a facetious thing to say, not least because of the implication of who could afford to fly off to Rio for an expensive illegal abortion.

    Compared with illegal abortions using other methods, the rate of infection with misoprostol was 12 times lower, researchers have found. But researchers at the University of Rio de Janeiro reported that they also found that among babies born with certain birth defects, a high percentage of the mothers used misoprostol. When the government in response restricted access to misoprostol, drug smugglers created an illegal black market

    Cytotec has lower rates, but those “other methods” inluding traditional herbal remedies, are still in use, particularly among those without access to conventional medicine.

    In the end, I’m not even sure how the data of “success” in the Brazilian case shows across income levels. When I lived in Brazil, I knew middle/upper class women who used cytotec, and they were fortunate to have doctors who would, while treating them for something else, get them advice about using the drug. And they could afford the drug. And they could afford a doctor if something went wrong. This means that those good statistics coming out of Brazil might 1) underrepresent people who aren’t educated/affluent enough to get and/or understand the drug and its complications, and 2) underrepresent the complication rate particularly among less affluent populations and therefore 3) overestimate the positive outcomes.

    Just so I’m clear, I am not condemning the use or legality of the drug. With a doctor’s supervision and followup, cytotec can be as safe as any other prescription medication. I am questioning the implication the article makes that we don’t have to worry about losing access to legal abortion. Particularly when one considers the uneven quality of black market drugs, and the consequences of presenting an incomplete “miscarriage” in the ER, there are a host of worries.

  6. Hissy Cat says:

    That was a very strange article.

  7. Karen in Kalifornia says:

    The article is written by a guy!!!! it’s a male writer….what did you expect?

  8. Ann Bartow says:

    “Self induced abortions” are a crime NOW in South Carolina, and I doubt my state is the only one. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-induced_abortion

  9. Auguste says:

    The article is written by a guy!!!! it’s a male writer….what did you expect?

    Wow. What a ridiculous thing to say.

  10. kate says:

    I must sound totally ignorant, but how much do abortions cost? I know they’re expensive … but how expensive?

  11. Kyra says:

    “From this set of facts, the Times gleaned, ‘If/when abortion becomes illegal, women will still be able to have them, just illegally.'”

    Insinuation: so stop complaining, ladies, you’ll still “be able to” have your abortions.

    Oh, how nice of the patriarchal-oppression apologists to *allow* us to still have abortions. Fuck that. If/when abortion becomes illegal, women will still have them, “ability” be damned. (Whether it’s oppression by waiting periods, guilt trips, and verbal abuse, or oppression by risking disembowlment by an alley-butcher, it’s the same patriarchy doing the oppressing, and the same patriarchy profiting from the control it has over us.) It sucks both ways (although considerably more when safe-and-legal isn’t available). What doesn’t suck is the work of the non-patriarchy: the funds that help women pay for abortions, the clinics that look out for the well-being of the women who get abortions, the people who would work to provide safe abortions if/when they weren’t legal. THEY are here, just like the patriarchy, whether abortion is legal or not. They are the ones that *enable* women to have abortions, and safe ones at that, rather than the ones who “allow” women to have abortions just so they can profit in some manner or another. They are there too, and they always will be. And that is damned comforting.

  12. Jill says:

    I must sound totally ignorant, but how much do abortions cost? I know they’re expensive … but how expensive?

    It depends on what kind, what stage of pregnancy, and where you live. If it’s an early procedure, they’re usually around $350. Later procedures can go into the thousands.

  13. Insinuation: so stop complaining, ladies, you’ll still “be able to” have your abortions.

    I don’t think that’s an insinuation of the article at all, specifically “stop complaining.” If anything, the insinuation is more “good luck trying to deny willing and able individuals access to abortion, you righties attempting to legislate moral control over what individuals do with their bodies.”

  14. Lisa says:

    My outrage is because surgical abortion is remarkably safe – mortality level about that or less than that of tooth extraction if I remember the CDC numbers. But the right wing in this country is determined to take away the safe surgical option leaving only the less safe unsupervised medical option (yeah they sure care about women’s health), with its risk of infection and more worryingly, birth defects when it fails. And if there’s one kind of surgery that NEEDS to work every time, it’s abortion – think about the effect on the psyche of a deformed child who knows s/he got that way because s/he was supposed to be aborted.
    And really, women shouldn’t have to break the law to get abortions. Legal safe abortion is the goal. This article shows we’re heading backward.

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