Notes on the Journey

Posts tagged ‘women’s reproductive health’

Woman’s Guide To Self-Abortion

This is the kind of information women of my generation passed along to each other in the olden days, 50 years ago, before Roe v. Wade:

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Self-Abortion

By Anonymous Raging Grandmothers and Hags (ARGH!)

In December 2015, a desperate woman in Tennessee named Anna Yocca attempted to end an unwanted pregnancy by stabbing herself in the vagina with a coat hanger.  She severely injured herself and was bleeding profusely. Yocca’s boyfriend, who had been present in the home while she was trying to self-abort, drove Yocca to an emergency room.  Anti-choice medical personnel at the hospital called the police who arrested Yocca on attempted murder charges.  Yocca was taken to jail. Her bond was set at $200,000. (The boyfriend remained a free man.)

Yocca is not the only woman in the US incarcerated for failing to be a good incubator. In April 2015, the state of Indiana sentenced Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison for the crime of feticide. Patel miscarried late in her second trimester, possibly spontaneously and possibly after taking pills to self-abort. Bleeding heavily, she sought medical attention. An anti-abortion doctor decided Patel should have been acting more grief stricken about the situation. He disapproved that she had disposed of her fetus at home instead of bringing it to the hospital. Patel’s failure to cry along with the fact that before the miscarriage Patel had mentioned abortion pills in a text message were enough evidence to convince a jury she was a murderess. Throwing the fetus in the garbage was portrayed as an especially evil act, even though flushing the remains of a pregnancy down the toilet is an everyday occurrence and standard procedure for the half million or more women who miscarry every year. (Medical providers routinely advise miscarrying women to flush miscarried tissue. This is standard practice in miscarriage care.)

Given that abortion rights are disappearing in the United States, we are likely to see more and more women both attempting to self-abort and going to jail for crimes against fetuses.

There has never been a golden age of accessible abortion care (although having an abortion got much easier in the U.S. in the 1970s, IF you had health insurance and IF you recognized the pregnancy early enough). Legal or not, women have always helped each other end unwanted pregnancies, usually safely and with good results. It’s time to revive the art and sisterhood of underground abortion.  ARGH! has prepared this starter guide for self-abortion.

Rule #1: Never use a coat hanger.

Or a knitting needle or any other sharp object. Blindly stabbing yourself in the vagina or cervix in hopes of ending a pregnancy is more likely lead to injury, infection, and blood loss than a successful abortion. As Anna Yocca learned, medical authorities may turn you over to the police if you go to the hospital with coat-hanger abortion injuries.

Rule #2: Learn how to visualize your cervix

Patriarchal medicine intentionally keeps women uninformed about our most basic anatomy and physiology. Most adult women have had a pelvic exam with a speculum, but very few women have ever seen their own cervix. Fewer women still know how to visualize their own cervix outside of a medical office. Carol Downer, founding mother of the women’s self-help movement in the late-60s and early 70s, had given birth six times but knew very little about her own body. While working in an underground feminist abortion clinic, she saw a woman’s cervix for the first time and had an instant epiphany. Her response was, “That’s it?! It’s only a few inches away and has a hole in it for easy access! We can do this ourselves!”

ARGH! recommends feminist collectives start practicing cervical self-exam. Gathering with other trusted feminists and seeing each other’s cervices breaks patriarchal taboos. Visualizing the many different ways to be a normal woman with normal genitals helps us heal from toxic porn culture and also forms the basis for learning safe woman-centered abortion techniques. Your collective should consist of well-vetted women you trust.

You can learn the basics of self-exam here:  and here Women’s Health in Women’s Hands is also an excellent comprehensive resource.

You can purchase a speculum here:

#3 Learn Menstrual Extraction

Did you know there’s a relatively easy way to complete your period in 20 to 60 minutes instead of 3 to 7 days? Menstrual extraction gently vacuums the inside of the uterus, removing menstrual fluid and any early pregnancies that may be present. Menstrual extraction can safely end a pregnancy up to eight weeks past your last period. Learning menstrual extraction takes practice, practice that can be obtained within your self-help group. Any woman who has a menstrual cycle can volunteer to help train others.  Motivated self-helpers will find it relatively easy to assemble menstrual extraction equipment. You can learn more about menstrual extraction here:

#4 Learn how to abort with pills

Medical and political authorities have placed mifepristone, the drug known as “the abortion pill,” under lockdown. Only one US supplier controls access to mifepristone and even doctors face extreme difficulties purchasing the drug. Luckily, other medications can be used to safely self-abort. Every woman interested in maintaining control over her own reproduction and helping other women do the same should learn about misoprostol (also known as Cytotec).

A prostaglandin drug originally designed to prevent stomach ulcers, misoprostol causes uterine contractions leading to expulsion of anything inside the uterus. Midwives and doctors use this drug to treat post-partum hemorrhage and also to stop heavy bleeding from miscarriages. The international feminist organization Women on Waves distributes misoprostol to women needing to end pregnancies in countries where abortion is illegal. Women on Waves and Woman Help provide detailed information on the use of misoprostol on their web sites.

Women can purchase misoprostol over the counter at pharmacies in Mexico and other Central American countries. Pharmacies in the US and Canada require a prescription for the drug.

Hypothetically, women may be able to obtain prescriptions for misoprostol from mainstream medical providers. A woman could tell a doctor or nurse practitioner that she needs to take ibuprofen for joint pain or a sports injury but has a history of stomach ulcers.  She could say that in the past she sprained her ankle and took a drug to protect her stomach from the ibuprofen. Could she please get a prescription for this drug again? She should not volunteer any information about her sex life or imply in any way that she knows misoprostol can be used to end pregnancy. She should stick with the story about joint pain and needing to protect her stomach. If questioned by the provider, this hypothetical woman would need to say that she is not heterosexually active, or that she is using a reliable method of birth control.  This technique could be used to stockpile misoprostol for a women’s collective.

Rule #5 If anything goes wrong, LIE!

If you are aborting with misoprostol, be prepared for some serious pain and bleeding like a heavy period. This is normal. Many women attempting to self-abort have unnecessarily gone to emergency rooms because they were not prepared for the pain of abortion. Natural miscarriages involve a similar kind of physical pain.  Pain cannot kill you. Heavy bleeding can, though. So know the warning signs of serious problems and seek medical help if these develop.

The International Women’s Health Coalition gives the following guidelines:

“Women should seek medical attention if they experience any of the following side effects after taking misoprostol:

–very heavy bleeding (soaking more than two large-sized thick sanitary pads each hour for more than two consecutive hours);
–continuous bleeding for several days resulting in dizziness or light-headedness;
–bleeding that stops but is followed two weeks or later by a sudden onset of extremely heavy bleeding, which may require manual vacuum aspiration or D&C;
–scant bleeding or no bleeding at all in the first seven days after using misoprostol, which may suggest that no abortion has occurred and require a repeat round of misoprostol or surgical termination;
–chills and fever lasting more than 24 hours after the last dose of misoprostol, which suggest that an infection may be present requiring treatment with antibiotics; or
–severe abdominal pain that lasts more than 24 hours after the last dose of misoprostol.”



And don’t be shy about lying if you go to the hospital!  Menstrual extraction leaves no visible trauma; there is no way a doctor could know that a woman had undergone the procedure. Misoprostol is cleared from our systems quickly so hospital staff will not be able to tell you took a medication, even though they may try to scare women into admitting they aborted by claiming it is possible.  They will not be able to detect signs of misoprostol within just a few hours of the time the medication was taken.

Complications from menstrual extraction and misoprostol abortions look just like complications from a miscarriage. All hospitals are equipped to handle these common medical problems. If you tried to self-abort and now feel you need medical attention, tell all medical personnel you encounter that you think you are having a miscarriage.

If you have a choice, do not go to a Catholic Hospital!

And remember to act very, very sad. Your poor baby, you wanted this baby so badly, now you are so heartbroken. Purvi Patel was arrested for failing to produce enough tears to satisfy a misogynist doctor, so CRY! (If you’re having trouble getting the tears going, we suggest you think about our sisters in Afghanistan being stoned for the crime of reporting rape, our sisters in El Salvador in jail for suspicious miscarriage, our little sisters all over the world being trafficked as “child brides” and rape slaves, and the fact that you live in a country where embryos have more rights than the women growing them.)

Sisterhood is powerful. Now is the time to start meeting collectively with other women you trust and reclaiming our right to end our own pregnancies. Our bodies, our decision!  We will not be incubators! Every child a wanted child!

The following resources and references contain priceless information for women seeking to put women’s health back in women’s hands.

Natural Liberty: Rediscovering Self-Induced Abortion Methods. Sage-Femme Collective

A New View of a Woman’s Body. A Fully Illustrated Guide by the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers

A Woman’s Book of Choices. By Carol Downer and Rebecca Chalker

The Story of Jane: the legendary underground feminist abortion service. By Laura Kaplan

Women’s Health in Women’s Hands

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