An article in The New York Times recently outlined the disturbing rise in ‘backyard abortions’ following the mass closure of legal abortion clinics in America.
Thousands of women are being forced backwards in history, to a dark and dangerous time of self-abortions. We’re talking knitting needles, coat hangers, and bleached uteruses. Punching themselves in the stomach. Eating bogus concoctions of herbs. Desperately trying to order contraband abortion pills on the black market. Risking imprisonment.
These women – teens, businesswomen, mothers – are being forced to put their own lives in danger in frantic attempts to keep their lives on a path that didn’t, at that very moment in time, involve bringing a child into the world.
Looking closer to home, our situation is less dire – but still far from perfect.
Since a Republican-led push in 2011, almost 200 abortion clinics have shut their doors across the southern states of America. It is staggering to think that across the five states of Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, just one single abortion clinic remains.
In The New York Times article ‘The Return Of The D.I.Y. Abortion’, author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz correlates a rise in home-abortion online searches, with the new abortion bans.
He quickly states the obvious: there are no official records of how many women are getting abortions in America. Clearly, it is a highly personal experience and one most would be hesitant to share.
However, thanks to the far-reaching power of Google, a disturbing spike in self-abortion-related searches can be definitively traced.
According to Stephens-Davidowitz:
“In 2015, in the United States, there were about 119,000 searches for the exact phrase “how to have a miscarriage.”
There were also searches for other variants — “how to self-abort” — and for particular methods. Overall, there were more than 700,000 Google searches looking into self-induced abortions in 2015.”
In The New York Times’ graphs below, you can see the spike in abortion restriction laws in America directly corresponding with a spike in self-abortion online searches from the 2011 period.
In 2015 alone, there were 4,000 searches for ‘coat hanger abortion’ in the USA.
That’s 4,000 scared, pregnant women who were cornered into considering inserting wire into their uterus to kill their unborn child rather than face the alternative of carrying full term. Gruesome? Yes. But these are the facts.
Surrounding these extreme physical risks is a shroud of secrecy and shame. In the same New York Times article, we’re told that in 34% of the women and men (that is, potential fathers) involved in aborted pregnancies told no-one. And for those who did tell, only told an average of 1.2 people.
One in three Australian women abort a pregnancy during their lifetime.
Consider what it would be like if we lived under Texan law, which criminalises abortion: where would all these women go? What would they do? How many lives would be irrevocably changed forever?
Abortion in Australia is legal, with each state in Australia having its own protocol in regard to safe and legal abortion.
Generally speaking, if you visit your doctor and discuss the possibility of abortion, you will be met with support and transparency of information. Harassment has also being banned, with legislation passing in November of 2015 to prevent protesters from coming within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.
Thankfully, a supportive environment seems to be under gradual construction.
And yet, it is far from perfect.
In 2006 Tony Abbott effectively banned the RU486 ‘Abortion Pill’, forcing women to turn to buying it online and performing home-abortions with no medical hygeine standards or emotional support. In 2009, a Queensland woman was charged with her own abortion after she procured RU486 from overseas relatives.
In 2013, Julia Gillard added RU486 to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in June of 2013 for ease of access. A step forward.
Prior to its listing on the PBS, RU-486 would cost between $300 to $800. It is now available for as little as $5.90 for concession card holders, and $36.10 for general patients.
However, it has been noted that some private clinics are charging up to $500 for RU486, making it more expensive than a surgical abortion. A step back.
Inflated costs aside, a more serious danger exists: RU486 also completely cancels out involvement from a healthcare professional.
Yes, every woman’s response to her own abortion will be unique. Some women cope without significant attachment to their unborn child, whilst others with mourn their loss for their entire life.
Regardless, every woman should have access to a safe abortion that is followed up with due mental health care.
And bear in mind that RU486 isn’t available easily to everyone: in the Northern Territory, it is only distributed by doctors in ‘special cases’, with all other abortions needing to be performed in their local hospital. Safe? Yes. Private? No.
It is staggering that in parts of our modern world that you can freeze the muscles on your face with as much unregulated Botox as your desire on your lunch break, but will struggle to find a safe way to terminate an early pregnancy. In America in particular, the situation worsens: you can buy a gun, but you can’t buy an abortion.
Women are capable of conceiving. We are not guilty of conceiving, nor is it a punishment. It is simply something that we are humanly capable of, even in the most undesirable circumstances.
The choice for a woman, therefore, to make a choice whether or not to bring that pregnancy to fruition must be her own decision. The ramifications of having an unwanted child are vast – for many women, it could derail their entire life.
Regardless of your ethical stance, everyone must agree that having a safe, clean, supportive place for these women to go is non-negotiable.
It is simply not acceptable that in 2016, a knitting needle is still an option.