Authorities in the United Kingdom have revealed that Catherine Furey, a mother of five, died from a home abortion. The reports are that she drank an “industrial strength” vinegar (vinegar is acetic acid). Her sister-in-law, who apparently handed her the vinegar and who, the Manchester Evening News reports has learning difficulties, was initially charged with manslaughter, but those charges have now been dropped.
Abortion is legal in the United Kingdom and a service provided by the National Health Service (NHS), so why would a woman who can get a free and safe abortion legally resort to these drastic and fatal measures? There are sadly too many reasons:
- Shame. Many women are ashamed to find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. The effort to talk about it may seem Herculean. Given societal attitudes, this is all too common. Very few women speak up about their abortion experiences and so even though it is legal it has the air of something one doesn’t discuss in polite society. People talk about their migraines at cocktails parties. Ever hear anyone talk about their abortion?
- Access issues. Just because abortion is free and legal doesn’t mean it is readily accessible. For example, in Canada where abortion is also free and legal there is no abortion provider in the Province of Prince Edward Island (which is an island). So, women have to find an out of province provider and make arrangements to go to the mainland. For some, that is too many steps or too much cost.
- They are afraid. Afraid of their spouse, of their family, or perhaps of the man who raped them. Some are afraid of picketers. I have many, many women whose husbands monitor their movements and hide car keys, preventing them from going to doctor’s visits. Domestic violence also escalates in pregnancy.
- Disagreement with her partner over whether this was a wanted pregnancy.
- Not knowing it is free and legal. How is that possible you say? I have seen women who were told by their doctor that abortion was illegal. This was in Canada and it was both legal and free, just no local providers would do it. For many it took a while to get the right information (remember the shame? It makes it harder to ask around) and several weeks to save up enough money for a bus ticket and make their way to a big city.
- Medical naiveté. She might think the at home abortion method she chose is safe and effect. Sixty percent of people believe the medical information they find on-line is as good as the information they get in a doctor’s office. Really. I see this everyday about medical conditions that way less urban mythology than abortion.
- Money. But it’s free you say? Well, there is the issue of gas and arranging a babysitter for her five children.
- Her family or religion is opposed to abortion. This overlaps with shame, but what if your family is anti-abortion or you are Catholic? What if you are worried about running into your Priest or sister?
- Personal opposition to abortion. “What?” you say? There are many anti-abortion picketers who find themselves needing abortions.
- Previous maltreatment by a medical professional. When a person feels dismissed it is hard to go back and re-establish care. If a woman feels mistreated about her reproductive care, it makes it that much harder to re-engage with a women’s health care.
- Rape. Going to the doctor might cause her to re-live the experience or be an admission that it really happened.
- Intellectual difficulties. This makes it so much harder to navigate the medical system, especially if you might not want to tell anyone why you need medical care.
- Depression. Depression makes it harder to figure out all the steps, such as childcare and calling for appointments etc. It is also possible that a very depressed woman who is suicidal may think the dangers of the home abortions are just not something to worry about.
- It’s just too much. For some women it is all just too much to navigate and organize. This might be less of an issue where abortion is freely available, but what if you live in the United States in one of the 87% of counties that have no abortion provider, have to find a provider who might be 80 miles away, drive for your ultrasound appointment, and then drive back 24 later after you mandatory waiting period?
I do not know Mrs. Furey’s case nor implying that these scenarios were applicable in her situation. What I have listed above is simply what I know from evidence based medicine and from hearing many, many stories.
Even when it is free and legal there are too many reasons that can drive a woman to do a home abortion.
Why might she die doing it at home? There are no safe home abortions.