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Coathanger Abortion: Powerful image, but how true to life?
Powerful image, but how true to life?
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Dateline: 3/28/01

One of the strongest images in the abortion-advocacy arsenal is that of the desperate woman who, unable to arrange a legal abortion, harms or even kills herself in an attempt to do the abortion herself. There is no denying that some pregnant women attempt, and even die from, grotesque attacks on their own reproductive organs. But is this phenomenon really a sociological problem, caused by lack of "access" to legal abortion? Or is there something else going on?

The fact is, most women who encounter trouble arranging a professional abortion will quickly adapt to the pregnancy and even come to welcome the birth of the baby. Dr. Aleck Bourne, who in 1938 successfully fought the British law against abortion for rape victims, said in his memoirs:

Bourne was not the only proponent of limited legalization who noted that women often changed their minds about abortion. In fact, one of the observations of the 1955 Planned Parenthood conference on induced abortion was that given the chance to work through their problems, most women who initially sought abortions would get past their anxieties and reject abortion, if given the chance. Conference participants tended to support efforts to reach abortion-minded women and help them resolve their anxiety; only a few renegades, such as "sexpert" Alfred Kinsey, advocated abortion on-demand.

The conference further noted, and Nancy Howell Lee's independent research confirmed, that the situation before legalization was not one of hoards of women wielding coathangers on themselves. Most women who initially requested abortion rejected the option on giving the matter more thought. Those who persisted in wanting to abort typically managed to arrange an abortion by a physician or a trained para-medical professional with a physician providing backup.

How, then, do we explain the women who turned up in emergency rooms and morgues, horribly injured by aggressive attacks on their own gravid wombs?


1. A. Bourne, A Doctor's Creed: The Memoirs of a Gynecologist, London, 1963.
2. 1955 Planned Parenthood Conference on Induced Abortion

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