What Can We Do?

You asked, Molly answered.

The fact that we have to post this deeply saddens me. Every woman should have access to basic medical care from her local doctor. But as it stands, not every woman does. And the right to reproductive healthcare is eroding more and more quickly.

I don’t necessarily endorse this post, and I would urge anyone considering using these methods to seek out safe, legal care from a trained professional. If abortion is illegal or highly limited where you live, seek it out in another state. Communities of women have come together to provide housing and transportation for women crossing state lines — the Haven Coalition in New York does this, and local clinics can let you know about similar programs in other states. Other programs exist to fund procedures for low-income women. As of now, there are still options. They aren’t always great options, and they’re especially challenging if you’re poor. But they aren’t universally insurmountable.

I don’t want to be unnecessarily alarmist, but things are starting to get bad. And so what Molly has posted could be potentially helpful to a lot of women, which is why I link to it. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the post, or the safety of the procedures described therein. But I trust other feminist, pro-choice women. We will create communities, and we will help eachother, even if our government finds it acceptable to infringe on our most basic human rights to decide what does and doesn’t grow in our bodies. We did it before Roe, and we’ll do it after.


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37 comments for “What Can We Do?

  1. B Moe
    February 24, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    No coat hangers in rat-infested allies?

  2. February 24, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    See? So excited about finally learning how to do trackbacks here and I pinged the wrong post. It was meant for the post two down before this. Sorry!

  3. Adrienne
    February 24, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Neither compulsory pregnancy nor traveling across state lines is worse than death or permanent sterility, which is exactly what any woman getting an illegal abortion from an unlicensed practitioner faces. The reason why abortion was legalized in the first place was because these procedures are NOT SAFE, and I think it is highly irresponsible of you to implicitly endorse it by linking to that article.

  4. February 24, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    I view it more as desperate times will call for desperate measures.

    Sure it may not be as safe as going to a licensed practitioner, but under certain circumstances, it is better than nothing.

    I’m sad that it has to come to this, but glad that this information is getting out there.

  5. zuzu
    February 24, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    Adrienne, the case before the Supreme Court right now is the one on the federal partial-birth abortion ban, not the South Dakota ban. If the federal ban is upheld, it means no state can provide these services. It’s only a short step from there to a total ban.

  6. February 24, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    The “unlicensed practitioners are always unsafe” thing began when the AMA spouted that line to make abortion illegal in the first place. Midwives were interfering with their business, they thought, and doctors should be the only ones performing abortions, and only when it was deemed “medically necessary.”

    Midwives have been performing abortions for centuries. My instructions involve sterile equipment (sterilized to hospital standards, even!), and medical grade instruments. An abortion performed with sterile, safe methods — the same methods used in hospitals all over the world — is not going to kill you or destroy your fertility.

  7. Adrienne
    February 24, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Then campaign to stop the banning process, or encourage DOCTORS to give abortions behind closed doors.

    The entire REASON why abortion was legalized was because unprofessional abortions were so dangerous! That’s why a bloody hanger is the haunting symbol that causes many pro-lifers to vote pro-choice, regardless of their personal beliefs. By encouraging illegal abortion procedures and calling them safe, you’re eroding the very argument for keeping abortion legal.

    No woman should prefer death over unwanted pregnancy. If her situation is that dire, ease it for her in some other way and promise to fight for her rights. Don’t kill her!

    Besides – the “short step” you speak of is long enough to be after the Bush Administration loses its power in 2008. I don’t believe abortion will ever actually be banned in its entirety in this country again.

  8. piny
    February 24, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Neither compulsory pregnancy nor traveling across state lines is worse than death or permanent sterility, which is exactly what any woman getting an illegal abortion from an unlicensed practitioner faces. The reason why abortion was legalized in the first place was because these procedures are NOT SAFE, and I think it is highly irresponsible of you to implicitly endorse it by linking to that article.

    All the women who did risk death or permanent sterility in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy disagree with that first assertion. And anti-choice activists know that being forced to cross state lines can prevent women from obtaining abortions at all. This link, and this article, do not endorse making abortion illegal or quietly allowing abortion to become illegal. They provide information on how best to function if and when that happens. No one is saying that abortion should not be subject to the same standards as any other medical procedure. This article is about what happens when that isn’t possible.

  9. Adrienne
    February 24, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Also: midwives used massage abortion, not surgical abortion. They’re entirely different.

    When some desperate 16 year old kids read your instructions and view it as an easy way out instead of asking their parents to take them across state lines…well, I hope it never happens.

  10. Betsy
    February 24, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    Question for everyone:
    Has anyone ever heard of the Del-Em, or menstrual extraction? I remember coming across this device when I was researching the early women’s health movement in the 1970s. It was a simple device made for extracting all menstrual blood/tissue at once or any early stage fertilized eggs. Supposedly, it was safe enough that laywomen could be easily trained to perform it on their friends (though you can’t do it to yourself). This would seem to be another way of circumventing these outrageous laws, if in fact it is safe, which I don’t know. Unless it counts as practicing medicine without a license, which would probably still have a lesser sentence than performing an abortion. “Why officer, I was simply helping my friend avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of a period before her vacation! No abortion here, no siree.”
    I’d be really curious if anyone else has better info than me on this subject.

  11. piny
    February 24, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Then campaign to stop the banning process, or encourage DOCTORS to give abortions behind closed doors.

    Yeah! Molly, why aren’t you doing anything to advocate for choice?

    And yes, that’s a great idea. It’s not like they’ll worry about getting arrested and charged with murder or anything. It’s not like an unlicensed procedure will carry any of the same accountability risks as a procedure performed by an unlicensed practitioner.

    The entire REASON why abortion was legalized was because unprofessional abortions were so dangerous! That’s why a bloody hanger is the haunting symbol that causes many pro-lifers to vote pro-choice, regardless of their personal beliefs. By encouraging illegal abortion procedures and calling them safe, you’re eroding the very argument for keeping abortion legal.

    It’s not so haunting a symbol that women all over this country aren’t slowly being cut off from the option of safe, legal abortion. And not “safe.” Safer than going to a back-alley butcher. Safer than a wire hanger.

    No woman should prefer death over unwanted pregnancy. If her situation is that dire, ease it for her in some other way and promise to fight for her rights. Don’t kill her!

    But they do, don’t they? Remember what you said just a paragraph ago? About how abortion became legal because everyone finally admitted that women were going to terminate their pregnancies whatever the cost to their lives, their health, or their fertility? Women will not keep unwanted pregnancies. No solution that involves giving birth is a workable one.

    Besides – the “short step” you speak of is long enough to be after the Bush Administration loses its power in 2008. I don’t believe abortion will ever actually be banned in its entirety in this country again.

    …And yet, you think it’s quite likely that a scared pregnant teenager will read the linked article and decide that doing it herself is her best option.

  12. big annie
    February 24, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Let’s face it, the days when American women make private reproductive desicions without some obstruction (i.e., protestors, pharmacists, etc.) are GONE.

    It doesn’t matter if Roe is law or not. It’s time we took matters into our own hands. What we need is an abortion method that women can perform on themselves, be it in the form of a pill or a suction device.

    I can’t believe in this day and age we can put a man on the moon but we can’t access an inexpensive reliable abortifacient.

    IMHO, the best weapon we have right now for early abortion is the birth control pill. It can be used in the same way as Plan B. Princeton University has an emergency contraception website: http://ec.princeton.edu/ and it lists the equivalent dosage for all bc pills sold in the US.

    Hopefully RU-486 will become a lucrative black market drug and will be as easy to purchase as pot or cocaine.

    There is no one out there who is going to save us….we have to save ourselves.

  13. B Moe
    February 24, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    You might consider trying to get these folks to do this.

    Just a thought.

  14. Betsy
    February 24, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Addendum:
    By the way, I think that it’s important to recognize that the members of Jane were TRAINED. They didn’t just get written instructions and figure out how to do it. They observed abortions being performed in real life before they began doing it themselves.
    Abortion is a simple procedure that CAN be performed by non-doctors. *But* it is not so simple that an instruction manual is enough training. Although I fully support the democratization of health information and training for simple procedures, I would warn people that just reading the instructions is not sufficient for ensuring safe outcomes. We want SAFE abortions to be readily available; self-taught abortionists, no matter how well-intentioned, border on dangerous.

  15. zuzu
    February 24, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    You might consider trying to get these folks to do this.

    Just a thought.

    What a concept! If only someone had tried to amend the Constitution so that women had equal rights.

  16. big annie
    February 24, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    It will never fly in Michigan. Both house majorities are very hostile to reproductive rights.

  17. Dianne
    February 24, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    I second what Betsy said.

  18. Josh
    February 24, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    You might consider trying to get these folks to do this.

    You might consider directing that idea to the North Dakota legislature, who are the ones actually flouting the Constitution.

  19. February 24, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Adrienne, the day some teenager can get her hands on $1500 worth of medical equipment and get a friend to perform the procedure, that’s worth considering. I’m not talking about herbal methods or self-induction — I’m talking about women learning, like the women of Jane did in the pre-Roe era, how to perform the exact same procedure under the exact same sterility standards as in a clinic or hospital environment.

    But right now, we’re going to be faced with an epidemic of teenagers “falling down the stairs.”

    Midwives did indeed perform primitive dilation and curettage. Primarily, this was kept secret because doctors didn’t like it.

  20. February 24, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    Or, to be more frank, my instructions were for those who in a post-Roe world might have to become abortionists. They are certainly NOT possible to do on one’s own. What I suggest is actually more expensive, considerably so, than a single abortion — your initial capital outlay would be around $1500-2000. However, following that outlay, you could have a sterile and safe setup for a couple hundred patients.

  21. February 24, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    No woman should prefer death over unwanted pregnancy. If her situation is that dire, ease it for her in some other way and promise to fight for her rights. Don’t kill her!

    “Sorry about your unwanted pregnancy, ma’am. Can we use you as a pathetic symbol for a fight that we won’t win for another decade to come after you kill yourself?”

    No one is advocating for abortions without training. We are opening up the discussion to Plan B.

  22. February 24, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you for putting this information out there. I am sure many of you know this already, but in the 1920’s the average Nunber of ABORTIONS for young women in NYC was 13. Thirteen. In the Soviet Union (a place America is rapidly becoming very like; secrecy, torture, hidden secret prisons…) in the 1980’s, the average number of abortions undergone by young women in Moscow was 14. Outlawing abortion does NOTHING to stop it. Abortion is as issue that only females can begin to comprehend; we can’t let the males call the shots on this one. They simply can NOT understand. Another interesting facet to this issue: now that paternity CAN be proved, many young MEN’s lives would be VERY affected by a ban on abortion…have the anti-abortionists thought this far ahead yet? That their darling BOY night have to drop out of college to support a family?

  23. Sterno
    February 24, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    Back in the day, while I was still in grade school, I had a close adult family friend who was Jane.

    I am now retired on disability from my career as an Perioperative Nurse (due to a spinal cord injury due to cancer–which is probably incurable); and it makes me so angry that I could SPIT that I may be called upon to leave my sick (death?) bed to take up the speculum.

    I used to say that I didn’t want to live to see that day.
    Be careful what you wish for!

  24. zuzu
    February 24, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    My mother, a good Catholic woman with five children and an alcoholic husband, whose attempt at getting her tubes tied after three miscarriages, six live births and five live children was thwarted by 1970-era law — even in the very currently-blue state of New Jersey, which required at the time that a woman seeking a tubal have either nine children, or the permission of her mother, her husband and her priest (and guess who was the sticky wicket?) — considered seriously aborting the pregnancy that turned out to be my youngest brother. It was 1973, and the rules had changed. Yet she was a product of her conditioning, plus despite my father’s alcoholism, we retained a toehold in the relatively-upper-middle-class.

    Yet she had absolutely no problem whatsoever telling my sister, when K. got pregnant during college, to have an abortion or Dad would kick her out; she also had no issue advising K. 15 years later to abort the pregnancy she was carrying during her divorce, long after her abusive husband had left her but before the papers had come through, to abort that pregnancy.

    I’ve been lucky, I guess, to have never gotten pregnant in my 16 or so years of sexual activity; I was also lucky to have found both an insurance plan and surgeon who would tie my tubes despite being a single educated white woman without kids. Of course, until I got my tubes tied, every sexual encounter was fraught with anxiety, since I had a very hard time taking the pill, so my contraception rested on barrier methods.

    At this point, though I know it’s realistically at least 8-10 years off, I’m looking forward to menopause.

  25. Anne
    February 25, 2006 at 9:20 am

    which required at the time that a woman seeking a tubal have either nine children, or the permission of her mother, her husband and her priest

    Wow.

  26. February 25, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Listen, I know this isn’t my place to moderate, but it seems like everyone jumped down Adrienne’s back and kind of berated/ shamed her for a response that is totally understandable and reflects the high value she has for women’s lives. What’s so bad about that?

    I understand commenter’s were reacting to hyperbolic language, but I’d like to say, as a woman who had a d&c abortion, that this illegal stuff scares the shit out of me. I wasn’t worried about the procedure beforehand nor did I encounter any complications, but I’m still glad there was a doctor to perform it. My understanding of med school is that students learn to perform surgery and treat patients not just by reading instructions in pamphlets on the internet but by observing live procedures, dissecting cadavers, assissting procedures, performing the procedure under the supervision and guidance of an experienced doctor and generally in a hospital where if something did go wrong, why, the patient is already at the hospital.

    I realize when people are desperate, they do desperate things, and that this desperate thing is better than other, more desperate things, but let’s not kid ourselves– having untrained, inexperienced, self-taught people performing internal surgery is scary stuff and it’s nothing to be cavalier about. I’m not saying don’t spread the info.: by all means, do. But, please, let’s call a spade a spade: this is an act of desperation, not empowerment nor liberation.

  27. February 25, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    It is an act of desperation, but do rest assured: should a ban on abortion come to pass, nearly all of the women who take up Molly’s advice will be people with years of nursing training. They will seek expert training from sympathetic surgeons and nurse practitioners with experience in the OR and midwifery.

    They will nearly all be older women, who understand the demands of pregnancy and childrearing, either through their own experience or through observing many friends and patients do it over many years, and who are fully sympathetic to women deciding for themselves whether they want to take up that burden.

    A clean room with sterile equipment with the procedure done by trained practitioners, even if that training is outside the aegis of the traditional medical establishment, should not be dangerous to a woman’s health. And I suspect that the pregnant woman will be better served emotionally by such “amateur” women than by running off to a cynical just-for-profit abortion clinic in Mexico run by misogynist medicos.

  28. what
    February 25, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    What tragic times we live in.

  29. February 25, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    How can we organize a network of these medical professionals to help women?

  30. piny
    February 25, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    But, please, let’s call a spade a spade: this is an act of desperation, not empowerment nor liberation.

    Of course. It is not, however, irresponsible.

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  32. February 26, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Another interesting facet to this issue: now that paternity CAN be proved, many young MEN’s lives would be VERY affected by a ban on abortion…have the anti-abortionists thought this far ahead yet? That their darling BOY night have to drop out of college to support a family?

    If this isn’t already the case in South Dakota, the next bill before the legislature should be state-funded paternity testing and similar bills should follow in any state that follows in South Dakota’s footsteps.

  33. Kyra
    February 26, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    Neither compulsory pregnancy nor traveling across state lines is worse than death or permanent sterility, which is exactly what any woman getting an illegal abortion from an unlicensed practitioner faces.

    Correction: any woman getting an illegal abortion faces the risk of death or permanant sterility. You will be justified in saying she faces death when the procedure is fatal every time. Currently, it is not a case of “every woman who gets an illegal abortion will either die or become sterile.” There is the risk, which fluctuates with the person doing the abortion, the procedure used, how well they do it, the type and quality of the tools they use, the availability of antibiotics, and the possibility of complications. However, people tend to prefer a small-to-moderate risk of one unpleasant thing to the certainty of another. Certainly she’s not facing death to the extent that she’s facing continued pregnancy and childbirth if she doesn’t get the abortion.

    Then campaign to stop the banning process, or encourage DOCTORS to give abortions behind closed doors.

    Or encourage doctors to train other people to do abortions, in which case Molly’s post serves as a sort of textbook, so such people are familiar with the process when they start learning. Do you think your average doctor spends their entire schooling and residency period learning how to do a D&C? It takes huge amounts of training because they learn about a lot more than abortions.

    The entire REASON why abortion was legalized was because unprofessional abortions were so dangerous!

    Actually, the entire reason why abortion was legalized was because the Supreme Court decided that professional abortions fell under the right to privacy.

    No woman should prefer death over unwanted pregnancy. If her situation is that dire, ease it for her in some other way and promise to fight for her rights. Don’t kill her!

    Adrienne: “No woman should prefer death over unwanted pregnancy.”
    Anti-choicers: “No woman should prefer abortion over having a baby.”
    Your idealistic and patronizing insistance on decreeing what women should prefer does absolutely nothing for women who do prefer the risk of death over an unwanted pregnancy. The anti-choicers are, unsurprisingly, limiting the options for easing it for her another way. And nobody is advocating shooting women who are desperate to be unpregnant, or whatever it is you meant when you asked us not to “kill her.”

    Hissy Cat,

    Listen, I know this isn’t my place to moderate, but it seems like everyone jumped down Adrienne’s back and kind of berated/ shamed her for a response that is totally understandable and reflects the high value she has for women’s lives. What’s so bad about that?

    What’s bad about that is she invokes this high value for women’s lives in order to attack a potential means to expand their options, because she is of the opinion that it is the wrong decision, regardless of how the women affected by it might feel. Bringing up safety concerns is one thing; crusading against the availibility of that option by suggesting women deserve to be denied that option if they’re deluded into thinking it’s the best option available, is another. Adrienne’s argument and motives remind me strongly of the signs that some anti-choicers use, specifically the ones that say “Women deserve better than abortion.”

  34. kate
    February 26, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    I never cease to be amazed at how willing women are to co-opt into their patriarchal training and consistently doubt the ability of other grown, adult women to make informed and rational choices regarding their bodies and their lives.

    To continuously insist that Molly’s posting will lead to women dying because they foolishly try this with their friends one afternoon is absolutely stunning.

    To assume that some other party must be inserted into the women’s life to make vital decisions for her smacks of presumptuousness of the highest order. To think that women will stand and spout this patriarchical nonsense is astounding.

    Lest a court or some other legal entity has declared the woman mentally unfit by legally accepted means, I would posit that she and she alone would have the temerity and intelligence to understand fully the possible ramifications that a pregnancy carried to term will have on her life.

    Whether or not she would choose to have an abortion and risk death as opposed to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term is her decision alone to make.

    I cannot for the life of me fathom how another woman can stand before anyone other than a pack of hungry mysoginistic godbags, and say that an adult woman is not fit to make decisions regarding her own life.

    But she can take raise children on her own, bring home the bacon, get a PhD, she can manage households, fight wars, wage wars, write, run government. Whatever else, but damn! she doesn’t have a clue about what to do with her uterus.

    Give me a damn break.

    PS to the poster who stated that the state will be paying for paternity tests: they do already with the welfare deform bill in order to find and force payment — not for the women mind you, but to ‘repay’ the state for the meagre support they give the mother of said child.

  35. February 27, 2006 at 9:51 am

    Also something to consider, and also in the category of “desperate times, desperate measures”– women should consider studying the information on herbal abortions. There is a comprehensive rundown at Sister Zeus. While herbs can certainly be dangerous, part of that danger stems from incorrect information (i.e., someone hears that pennyroyal can terminate a pregnancy and then dies from ingesting pennyroyal oil– the oil is never, ever to be used internally). A herbal procedure may not be without risks, but in the hands of an herbalist/self-educated woman, I would certainly consider it preferable to a coat hanger, and it is a viable alternative for early termination if the woman has no access to surgical abortion.

  36. February 27, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Has anyone ever heard of the Del-Em, or menstrual extraction? I remember coming across this device when I was researching the early women’s health movement in the 1970s.

    It’s called “manual vacuum aspiration” now, and it fell out of favor a bit with the advent of medical abortion. But it’s still out there, and used by some doctors. Here’s some more info:

    WebMD, and Ipas (who manufactures the device).

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