Did Abortion Ever Leave the Backstreet?
Some years ago, I was praying outside our local abortion centre during a hailstorm. Abortion had been decriminalised in my state only the previous year, but the facility had been there for a long time. It looked like so many others around the country: dingy, shabby, ashamed of its own existence. As I stared through the rain, I wondered what abortion advocates would have expected such a facility to look like these days – decades after abortion had been legalised in the Western world and was now being marketed as an everyday medical procedure.
Would abortion enthusiasts expect an elegant sign announcing, “Elite Abortion Services” , or perhaps “Family Reduction Clinic”? Surely, there’d be a sophisticated security system designed to protect valuable clients? No, there wasn’t. And the shopfront wasn’t decorated with pictures of satisfied customers – no before and after shots like the dental clinics down the road. There was just a dingy exterior with Specialist Medical Centre the only indication that – yes, this was the place that hapless women were looking for. This would have been more accurate:
Please enter this gloomy doorway and your life will be forever changed.
One exception to this is the newly-opened ‘abortion-spa- in Washington DC. The owners are trying to destigmatize abortion by presenting it in a more glamorous setting. Interestingly, only medical (abortion-pill) abortions are performed in this facility – so the family home becomes the abortion facility. I guess it’s just too hard to make a death chamber more aesthetically pleasing. The image below is from the ‘abortion-spa’ Carafem. (c)
Stories from the Backstreets
We’ve all heard the slogans like #nevergoback and #itsnot1899. We’ve been told that ‘it’s not the 1950’s’ and that women will have to resort to coathangers if abortion is ever re-criminalised. Elsewhere on this blog is an article by Bill Muehlenberg about this subject, entitled The Myth of the Backyard Abortion. (click here to read it.) In it, he explores the lack of evidence of infamous coathanger abortions and concludes that most illegal abortions were performed by medical doctors.
However, we know that there were some of these illegal abortions performed by non-doctors. Here are a few accounts of abortions performed before it was legal:
This story, by a woman who had an illegal abortion in 1967, tells of a procedure in which a wire was used to create an infection, which later led to her aborting her child. The abortion took place in a seedy hotel because the woman, in college at the time, couldn’t afford to pay for a ‘real’ backstreet abortionist. She said in later years, regarding the introduction of pro-life laws:
“And here we are again. Demonizing women. Limiting birth control. Shrinking access to legal and safe abortion. Daring women to go find the wire. All while men can walk away and be free.”
(But I ask myself, now that abortion is legal, can’t men still walk away? Doesn’t contraception fail? Often? AND it gives rise to the abortion mentality of sex does not equal babies. And these days, why do women still feel they need to ‘find a wire’?)
The writer of this account travelled to Puerto Rico in 1962 to procure an abortion. From the moment she discovered she was pregnant, this women tried method after method to kill her child. She went through a tremendous ordeal in order to have her baby aborted, and finally got her way:
“A wooden table, no anaesthesia, a scraping sound and a newspaper-lined metal bucket. I moaned. Be quiet, he demanded. Or did I want him to stop? No, no. Go on. Please. Go on.”
Not all illegal abortions took place in the dim, dark past. In this account from 1993, five women used a home-made manual aspirator to abort the writer’s first trimester baby. They described the procedure as an ‘early uterine evacuation.’
“I justified my choice by revolutionary reasoning; if my experience could be useful to others, it would be more worthwhile to me. I was doing this for all women, everywhere. I was part of a movement, walking the talk, ensuring personal liberties regardless of political climate. If abortion were ever illegal in America again -– and we all knew it could happen –- we’d need women’s health collectives like this one around so we wouldn’t have to subject ourselves to the horrible things women had to live through in the past.”
Although abortion on demand was legal at that time, the mother chose to have an illegal abortion, as a kind of Statement against the Establishment. She described the pain as ‘overwhelming’, and the most extreme experience of her life. The abortionists only worked on condition that there would be no after-care, and if a hospital was necessary, the patient would have to lie to doctors and tell them she was miscarrying. How is that any different to the ‘horrible things women had to live through in the past’?
Legal, Rare and …… Ummmm?
But now back to the present – where abortion is meant to be safe, legal and rare. As pro-lifers often point out, present-day abortion providers don’t seem to be any more skilled at performing the procedure than those of the pre-legal days. Operation Rescue has compiled a collection of stories from women who suffered traumatic abortions at the hands of the late George Tiller, in Kansas. Tiller was notorious for performing late-term abortions, and catered particularly to out-of-town women who had to travel because of restrictions in their own states. He regularly twisted the laws regarding late-term abortion to accommodate such ‘anomalies’ as cleft palate and the presence of healthy twins – hardly life-threatening conditions. These stories don’t appear to differ a great deal from the illegal abortions mentioned above. There is the same excruciating pain, the same sense of hopelessness, often – coercion, and utter disinterest on the part of the abortionist.
Abortionists are sometimes quite open about the dangers of their favourite procedure: The following is from a late-term abortion article in Salon magazine (read it here). The doctor tries to justify the use of partial-birth abortion technique, saying:
“This is why I hate overuse of forceps,” the doctor commented. “Things tear.” Rubbing a hand across his forehead, the doctor looked straight at me: “There are only two kinds of doctors who have never perforated a uterus,” he added, “those that lie and those who don’t do abortions.”
The whole article is quite eye-opening. The author is pro-abortion, and had this to say about watching the procedures:
“I also watched for any signs of fetal distress, but even as one foot was pulled off, I could see no response, no reflexive spasm, nothing. Whether this was a result of the anesthesia or an undeveloped fetal system for pain sensitivity, one thing was clear: There was no discernable response by the fetus. And in the operating room there was no emotional one from me.”
Wow. Just wow.
Some abortion providers today are guilty of a multitude of crimes in addition to the taking of innocent lives. Oklahoma abortionist Patel was arrested a couple of years ago for performing abortions on women who were not even pregnant. This mainstream media report tells the basic facts, but an article from Life News adds many details to this sordid case. Sexual abuse, harassment, privacy violations and unsanitary conditions make this abortion provider sound like he came straight from the backstreet days. In this case, nothing has changed for his patients, and even his staff were subject to abuse.
Gosnell: King of the Modern Backstreet Abortionists
Probably the most widely-reported case of a backyard-style abortionist is that of Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell is now serving time, including three life sentences, for a series of convictions (Read more here and here:). When officials searched his filthy premises, they found bodies of aborted babies scattered around the facility, along with cat faeces and unsanitary, broken equipment. Gosnell had allowed his unlicensed staff to administer drugs, and was absent on numerous occasions when medical assistance was required by his patients. Although his case could be said to be extreme, the lack of oversight by authorities in this case should raise red flags about facilities all over the US, and perhaps even here in Australia. It is an outrage that he wasn’t investigated until the complaints against him were overwhelming.
So Did Abortion Ever Leave the Backstreet?
According to the World Health Organization website, an unsafe abortion is defined as a procedure for terminating a pregnancy performed by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment not in conformity with minimal medical standards, or both.
The extreme examples above obviously qualify as ‘unsafe abortions.’ But alarmingly, with the advent of the abortion pill, a low standard of care is becoming mainstream. Consider this advice, given on the online abortion-drug website, Women On Web, (home of the Abortion Ship). Here, women are advised to see a local doctor if there are complications after their medical abortion – the abortion-ship doesn’t personally provide follow-up care. To my mind, this is EXACTLY what the WHO would describe as unsafe abortion. And in areas where abortion is illegal, women are told to tell doctors that they are miscarrying – in other words, women are told to lie. According to statistics provided on this site, 2-3% of women taking RU-486 will need some form of follow-up treatment, and up to 8% of women taking RU-486 will require a surgical abortion because the drugs fail to successfully terminate their babies’ lives. Unfortunately, the true numbers of incomplete abortion and other side-effects will never be known, since the practice of lying to doctors is so widespread.
In any case, no matter how safe abortion is for women, there is one person for whom abortion is never safe: