The Coat Hanger Abortion: Fact or Fiction?

Coat hanger protest signThe scandal of Philadeplia abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” brings to mind images of the “back alley” and “coat hanger” abortions that Roe v Wade was supposed to bring to an end.

The pro-life movement has been decrying the unsafe conditions at abortion clinics for decades. If we’d been heeded by the authorities in Philadelphia, Kermit Gosnell would have been put out of business in the 90s. We wouldn’t be hearing today about the woman he killed in a botched abortion, or the babies he and his staff stabbed in the spine with scissors after they survived failed abortion attempts.

That Roe made abortion safe is a myth, but that’s not the only myth being spread by the pro-abortion camp. There is also the issue of the “coat hanger” abortion.

The Coat Hanger: A Pro-Choice Symbol

We are told that, before Roe, desperate women used coat hangers in dangerous self-administered abortions. The coat hanger—often with the slash-circle “no” symbol—has become the premier symbol for the pro-choice movement.

Coat hangers mailed to League officeSigns at pro-abortion protests typically feature this coat hanger symbol, and you’ll find it in miniature on the profile pictures of abortion advocates on Facebook and Twitter.

One of the most creative uses of the symbol I’ve seen was at a protest in August 2005 of the nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court: a gigantic red coat hanger with a banner reading “We won’t go back!”

On the stranger side of the spectrum was a package delivered to the League’s Chicago office in May 2008 containing two red plastic coat hangers, along with a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Mount Holyoke College urging us to support legal abortion.

The pro-choice movement has rallied around this symbol. But is there any truth to the coat hanger abortion story?

Was There Ever a Coat Hanger Abortion?

While preparing the League’s handbook, Sharing the Pro-Life Message, my staff and I searched high and low for evidence of an abortion ever having been performed with a coat hanger. We found none.

That isn’t to say it never happened. We know that women did attempt to do abortions on themselves, using all manner of objects. But I never found any specific evidence of a coat hanger abortion—until now.

Who Gave Her the Idea of Aborting Herself with an Coat Hanger?

What’s unusual about this case of a confirmed coat hanger abortion is that it isn’t one from the archives. It happened in 2009.

I came across the story in an article in Slate on women who decide to perform their own (illegal) abortions, despite the ready availability of legal abortion.

Coat hanger sculpture and Malachi abortion signAn account of the case says a 24-year-old woman pregnant with twins attempted to abort herself with a coat hanger and ended up in the emergency room. The babies died and the woman required a hysterectomy; she will never bear children.

The study authors suggest that factors like the decreasing number of abortion providers, the number of counties without abortion facilities and laws like parental involvement may be responsible for women choosing to attempt their own abortions.

But in this case, I have to wonder of some of the blame should be laid at the feet of the abortion lobby. After all, where did this woman get the idea of doing an abortion with a coat hanger?

It would be a tragic irony if the only recorded case of a coat hanger abortion was actually inspired by all the hype about coat hanger abortions coming from the pro-choice side.

Meanwhile, as the Gosnell case illustrates in gory technicolor, abortion remains unsafe for women. It’s time the abortion lobby were held accountable for that.

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