When abortion is free and legal why does a woman do it at home and die?

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.

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  1. When abortion is legal and mostly accessible why would a woman do it at home???

    Access and the Dangers of Clinic Protestors~by Oubli

    I have experienced abortion clinic protestors many times in my life.

    – for my own abortion, I got pamphlets shoved inside my open car window
    – for my friend K, while heavily pregnant with a wanted pregnancy, I took my friend for an early medical abortion and was the target of all the protestors
    – for my sister E, this time I engaged the antis and explained that her pregnancy had fetal abnormalities, so they wouldn’t barrage her walking in or out. They didn’t – they surprisingly kept silent.

    All of these experiences with abortion clinic protestors led me to terminate my own pregnancy at home with herbs. I had many reasons for doing so but one of the biggest reasons was not wanting to be exposed to the protestors once again. Their judgments, their pamphlets, their prayers and clicking rosary beads were enough stigma for me not to want that thrown in my face again.

    Don’t get me wrong I would take any one of my friends or family members for theirs in a heartbeat to shield them the best I could from the protestors, but for me I didn’t want to go through it again.

    So there I was 3 weeks past due for my period, definitely pregnancy, and I opted out of a legal, safe and available abortion. (My Planned Parenthood that performs abortions is only 12 miles away)


  2. Another issue with access: there was a situation in Canada where there was one doctor who performed abortions in some remote area. The only problem was that his anesthesiologist was morally opposed to abortion, and so refused to provide services to women who sought the procedure. So you either had to travel hundreds of miles to find another provider, or undergo an invasive medical procedure without anesthesia.

  3. This was very informative and it’s such a shame that a woman would be denied this basic care. I wish people would stop and think about a woman’s personal choice and her health before immediately jumping to the conclusion that she’s evil if she can’t take care of a baby. These same people that declare abortion evil are the ones that gripe about taxes being so high. Want them to go down? Well if we weren’t supporting so many families with our tax dollars… not saying welfare is ALL wrong, but just one way to look at it…

  4. Great outline of the cultural barriers to the abortion. Abortion will always be a disputed point in culture. While the simplicity of pro v. con is handy for politicians and simpletons ; the actual nature and object of the act of abortion – the basis of what exactly it is; remains largely in dispute despite thousands of years of experience in unexpected across countless cultures. Nearly every study splits the nation 50/50 http://tinyurl.com/2br99el so there is no progress in the argument.

    Quite obviously we can mitigate somewhat the abuse barriers with laws and vigorous enforcement, but abuse has always been illegal (and it too, will likely continue to occur). Likewise shame, religion, force and fear (real and imagined), mental illness, and ignorance will always remain as long as week keep the “pro” v “anti” camps – both of which incidentally, are quite profitable.

    The nature and objective of abortion connects directly to the nature of parenthood and the objective purpose of the biological system(s) involved. As such, these cultural and personal road blocks will never disappear and it is a fool’s errand to think it possible in our current milieu. The best anyone can do is protest or tolerate – which denies the philosophical, scientific and cultural argument that is yet to occur. That is what we do so ineptly now – protest, tolerate and deny the realities at hand choosing to instead to look for hypocrisy – which is pretty prevalent on both sides. We prefer to discuss what the other side thinks – anti-choice this and pro-choice that than to seriously plumb the depths or the superficiality of our own philosophy.

    The actual paradox of parenthood and abortion was summarized well by a 2011 piece in the NY Times http://tinyurl.com/7hxacqe – “No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed”. We are yet to be able to simply answer the question “when does one become a parent” after thousands of years of culture. Failing to wrestle with this serious and integral question we fall into the superficial camps of “anti-choice”, “pro-life”, “pro-choice”, etc.

    When it comes to abortion, we are like the fool that looks for his lost keys by the street lamp not because he lost his keys by the lamp but because the light is better there – that goes for both sides.

  5. tragic…my heart goes out to her family….

    If anyone ever needs to be in Halifax, NS for an abortion and doesn’t have a place top stay or needs a ride or a support person to accompany them please contact Shannon at Maritime Abortion Support Services, a volunteer based group of awesomely rad people who offer help to anyone needing an abortion.


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