Read "The Rise of DIY Abortions" and you'll be horrified and moved -- and left with the strong impression that new restrictions on abortion are causing a dangerous trend: More and more women, this article in The New Republic suggests, are turning to dangerous, unregulated abortion drugs they buy online.
The only problem is, there's no actual evidence for any such trend. The article admits:
Determining how many American women have had home abortions is exceedingly difficult: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not track illegal abortions. There is no blood test for drugs like Cytotec, and so such an abortion is indistinguishable from a natural miscarriage, even to a doctor.
In other words, despite the headline, there may not actually be a "rise in DIY abortions" at all. There's no evidence for it, other then that "the proliferation of online dispensers [of illegal abortion drugs] suggests a rising demand."
It seems like common sense, though. Surely, if it's harder for women to get legal abortions, they'll start opting for secret, illegal ones. To illustrate this argument in a compelling way, the article devotes the bulk of its five pages to the horrifying story of a young mother, Jennie Linn McCormack, who was arrested in 2011 in Idaho for having "an abortion in a manner not sanctioned by the state" and then hiding her daughter's decomposing body, first under her bed and then under the cover of a grill on her porch.
The details of her story are heart-rending. She had her first baby at 14, and continued to bear children by different men, some of them abusive, some of them criminals. When she found herself pregnant one final time, she couldn't bear the thought of going through with yet another pregnancy -- but she couldn't afford the thousands of dollars necessary to get a surgical abortion, or to pay for the hotel room while she sweated out the state's mandatory 72-hour waiting period.
And so she took matters into her own hands, ordered some cheap abortion drugs online, and endured a solitary and bloody abortion alone in a bathroom on Christmas Eve. Desperate, unsupported, she couldn't bear to throw out the baby's body, and so she hid it under her bed.
After about a week, the box began to emit an odor. McCormack wrapped it up in more bags and put it out on the back porch, on the shelf of a covered barbecue. It didn’t feel right to her to throw it away. A week or so later, unable to figure out what to do, she finally confided in a friend. He called his sister, and his sister called the police.
On the afternoon of January 9, 2011, two officers arrived at McCormack’s house. She led them to the back porch and told them, according to reports, “My baby is in the box.”
McCormack's nightmarish story, the article implies, is a stark warning of what will happen to more women everywhere, if pro-lifers continue to push for restrictions against abortion. If only she could have gotten an easier, earlier, more accessible, more professional abortion, she could have avoided all this horror.
Or would she? The article says that McCormack wanted to end her pregnancy right away, but bemoans that "the logistics of arranging it all took about two months." It implies that if she had been able to get a quick and easy abortion two months earlier, none of this would have happened.
Let's look more closely at that idea. Here's what actually happened: McCormack thought she was about fourteen weeks along, but she was actually much further.
The fetus was much bigger than she had expected. It was about a foot long, clearly female, with identifiable features and hair.
According to the autopsy, the fetus was closer to 23 weeks along. So if she had had an abortion two months earlier, she would have been fifteen weeks along. Here is what a fifteen-week-old fetus looks like:
What would McCormack have thought if this child was the one born dead on the bathroom floor, rather than the 23-week-old one she actually bore? No big deal? Just another piece of trash? That's hard to believe. The problem would have been the same in either case: a fetus of either age is clearly a child, a little girl. This mother couldn't just throw her out. If she had hidden a 15-week-old fetus on her barbeque, she would have done the same as she actually did with her 23-week-old fetus: she led the police to the body and said, "My baby is in the box."
But most women know they're pregnant before they're 23 or even 15 weeks along. Most women, if they want an abortion, will seek one right away, before there are any recognizable features or silky hair to worry about. So surely, other women could be spared McCormack's horrible fate if they know they can get emergency contraception or an abortion pill quickly and safely, with the help of a trained physician. No one should be put in the position of taking a drug, waiting alone, and hoping for the best! That's unsafe, and cruel, surely.
Then why does the article use this story as an example? There is no mention that McCormack's physical health was compromised. It seems that the drug worked exactly as she had hoped. It seems that, if she had gotten her abortion drug legally, in the way that pro-choicers hope for, she would have had exactly the same experience as she actually ended up having.
Less, not more.
Here's how The New Republic article phrases it:
Several states have recently passed or are considering legislation to limit access to abortion drugs online and off. In 2011, Wisconsin passed a measure that would potentially subject doctors to criminal charges for performing medication abortions without adhering to certain specific protocols, such as seeing the patient three times; Planned Parenthood clinics in the state stopped providing medication abortions in April, and the organization has filed suit against the law.
What law? A law that would require them to follow FDA regulations. That's it. When they say "limit[ing] access to abortion drugs," they mean "requiring basic medical safeguards." This is pro-choicer's current cause célèbre: they demand less involvement by trained physicians. Less oversight by the FDA. Fewer requirements to ensure the woman's health and well-being.
Pro-choicers do not want women to have an ultrasound to confirm gestational age, even though 16 to 23% of women who took RU-486 beyond the FDA-recommended 7 weeks required a D and C because of heavy bleeding or incomplete abortion. 612 women were hospitalized after using the drug, 339 needed a blood transfusion, and 256 suffered infections. And fourteen women died. According to the FDA report, eight of the dead women had been administered RU-486 in a manner unapproved by the FDA.
Presumably Susan Yanow of the Reproductive Health Access Project has access to the FDA's findings; and yet she is quoted in The New Republic article saying,
“Ideally, I would like for a woman who is under nine weeks to be able to call a clinic or a physician and to get excellent counseling about medical abortion and then at the end of the call hear, ‘So, would you like me to phone a prescription in to your nearby pharmacy, or would you like to come in and do this with the support of a medical practitioner?’
What do you suppose Jennie McCormack would have said on such a phone call? "Call it in, please. Yes, I'm sure I'm under nine weeks. No, I can't come in to see you." And you know the rest of her story.
If Planned Parenthood and other radical pro-choice groups have their way, DIY abortions will rise -- not because abortions will become harder to get, but because they will become easier. McCormack's story will become commonplace. Desperate women with no support, who feel like they have no other choice, will be taking drugs that they don't understand. There will be no one to help them. No one will be required to support them. No one will check after their emotional health. No one will follow up to make sure the woman isn't hemorrhaging, or suffering sepsis. No one will be there to see after the disposal of the tiny body.
That's the only part of this story that embarrasses pro-choicers: she didn't do a better job of hiding the body. Every other detail played out exactly according to what they demand for all women.
Yes, there will be a rise of DIY abortions. And what will we do about it? The same thing we always do: the far left will blame the government for making abortion too hard, and the far right will blame women for being too easy. The far left will rail against doctors who want to heal women, not tear out their insides; and the far right will rail against women who are so desperate, they are willing to tear out their insides.
And all the while, Jennie Linn McCormack cleans herself up, wipes down the floor, and looks around, wondering where to hide the body.