Philobiblon: The coathangar returns to America

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The coathangar returns to America

When I started to learn about feminism, and the fight for abortion rights, in the mid-1980s, the Western world at least thought that accounts of women swallowing noxious chemicals, or introducing them into their uterus in an attempt to end a pregnancy, was merely a nasty historical lesson, a cautionary tale.

Yet it is not just that this is now threatening to return, but in America, it has already returned:

Jen (not her real name) is administrator of a women's health clinic in the South that provides abortions. She has noted with alarm the recent rise in illegal abortion in her community. For some of the women she sees -- after their initial attempts at abortion fail -- whether Roe v. Wade is technically still the law of the land is beside the point. The combination of the procedure's cost, the numerous regulations that her state imposes and the stigma surrounding abortion is leading a growing number of women to choose self-abortion or an untrained practitioner over legal abortion.
...A doctor from the hospital ... contacted her. He asked for her help in setting up a special ward for the treatment of illegal abortions when Roe is overturned, because he knows the caseload will mushroom then. "He didn't say 'if' -- he said 'when,'" Jen said. "Chills ran down my spine."

And mine. There's the inevitable hideous human suffering, so clearly epitomised by the coathangar, but there's also the thought of the return of the fear of pregnancy that has haunted women for millennia. Will freedom be so quickly snuffed out?

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