Anatomy of a coat hanger abortion

The coat hanger isn’t sterile. It isn’t even clean.

If the woman, or girl, is alone she thrusts it blindly upwards into the vagina. She’s hoping it will get into her uterus and do something. She may or may not know that to get into the uterus the coat hanger has to navigate the small opening in the cervix called the os.

A coat hanger is technically narrow enough to get through a pregnant cervical os, but the end is sharp not tapered so it can lacerate and perforate. Getting any instrument through the cervix safely also requires visualization and knowledge of the correct amount of force.

If she’s lucky enough to get the coat hanger through her cervix it could easily sail right through the back or side walls of the uterus. The uterine wall is soft and easily perforated with the wrong instrument or unskilled hands. If the uterus is perforated on one of the sides there is a high risk of lacerating a uterine artery, as that is where they are located. If this happens a woman who is by herself could easily bleed to death before she gets appropriate medical care. These arteries pump a lot of blood.

The other danger with uterine perforation is the bowel. Puncturing bowel will hurt, but depending on her level of fear it might only be enough to cry out but not to ask for help. However, within the next 3 days the bowel perforation will most certainly kill her unless she gets appropriate medical care. That care will likely involve major surgery to drain abscesses, remove necrotic bowel, and possibly even a colostomy. The uterus will also be infected and may be damaged beyond repair.

If she was lucky and got that rough end of the coat hanger in and out of her cervix without puncturing something it is unlikely she will induce an abortion immediately. In this scenario the coat hanger is really just a vector for introducing infection. In 2-3 days or so she will cramp, and if fortunate her uterus will contract and she will pass the tissue at home. However, the bacteria from septic abortions often disseminates and each hour the condition remains untreated death takes a step closer. If she gets to the hospital in time and they can empty her uterus without killing her and she doesn’t have a resistant bacteria and she isn’t in septic shock and is otherwise healthy she will survive. That’s a lot of variables.

The coat hanger might miss the cervix altogether and puncture the top of the vagina. It could also hit the uterine arteries from this angle and likewise still devastate the bowel.

If the coat hanger is used by someone else, they may or may not get it through the cervix. Same risks of perforation and laceration, because a skilled operator would never use a coat hanger. However, not everyone would know that and some are too desperate to care. The medical sequelae are therefore all essentially the same, with one exception. The type of people who offer coat hanger abortions may also sexually assault their victim, because really, who’s going to report them to the police?

If you are going to joke about coat hangers and abortion you should know exactly what you are joking about.

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  1. Wow. I am an architect working on a theoretical project that centers on the criminalization of women’s healthcare and your post strikes right at the heart of why I’m so passionate about this issue. I look forward to reading more of your writing here. Liz Swanson

  2. I’m still struggling with the idea that child abuse (i.e. throwing baby/child down the stairs, slamming baby/child’s head against a/the wall, setting baby/child on fire, violent shaking of baby/child causing brain swelling) are all basically the end result of an unwanted pregnancy! Where are the statistics on this? I believe in my heart of hearts these are all unfortunate beings that should not have been born in the first place, but managed to come to full term and into the world only to be tortured! Any of you up for that little idea/exploration!!!!!!!

    1. You are spot on. “Where are the statistics on this? I believe in my heart of hearts these are all unfortunate beings that should not have been born in the first place, but managed to come to full term and into the world only to be tortured! Any of you up for that little idea/exploration!!!!!!!”

  3. Well this definitely changed my mind on doing this. I’ve tried the herbs but they don’t work what so ever! They just made me throw up & poop everywhere, but the baby is perfectly fine. Still.. don’t try those. It sucks cuz I really can’t have this baby, I have nobody to help me, abortions cost way too much where I’m at and the only option I have is to have it & not be able to give it a good life. I feel like I’ve already failed as a person and a parent. Mostly, because of the anti-choice people want to deny me of cytotex. You guys are seriously horrible! I hope one of you get pregnant at the worst possible time with the worst possible conditions & tell me pro-life is the best way to go! Anyways thanks anti-choice people for help making my terrible decision into a living horrific nightmare.

  4. I remember arguing with an anti-choicer once as to why abortion needs to be legal. When I said that abortion needs to stay legal because otherwise pregnant people* die from unsafe abortions, her response stopped me cold: “Good. They deserve to die for trying to murder their babies.”

    That’s what we’re up against, folks. We’re up against people who have so little empathy, they’ll be able to read a post like this and feel a sense of satisfaction that these terrible side effects might befall a desperate, terrified pregnant person. They’ll believe that person deserves the perforated uterus, the agonizing pain, the slow death from septicemia.

    Anti-choicers like that may be physically human, but somewhere along the line they lost their humanity. That kind of sociopathy is out there signing petitions, writing letters to politicians, voting, and harassing people outside of medical clinics.

    I wish I could believe that this post will change someone’s mind and unharden someone’s heart. But honestly, I don’t think many anti-choicers have the capacity to care.

    On the upside, it’s a good reminder to pro-choicers as to why we need to keep fighting the battle to preserve and expand access to reproductive care.

    * Note: I use inclusive gender-neutral language like “pregnant person” to reflect the reality that there are also men getting pregnant now (transgender men who have kept their uteruses), as well as people who don’t identify as women or men (genderqueers, for example). While the vast, vast, VAST majority of pregnancies are occurring in people who identify as women, it’s no longer *exclusively* women. Everyone who deals with an unwanted pregnancy deserves easy access to whatever kind of care they want, including abortion.

  5. Thank you, Dr. Gunter, for this gruesome reminder of what was used for self-induced abortion by very desperate women in the past before abortion was legal in the U.S. I just don’t understand people who want to go back to that time. As mentioned in many of the comments, there will never be no abortions — never! Let’s keep them legal and safe.

  6. Reblogged this on Feminism & Football and commented:
    With SCOTUS hearing Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius today, remembering what access to birth control means is key. This is not about religious freedom, this is about a systemic punishment of women and their sexuality. When birth control and abortion are made illegal, unintended pregnancies and abortion do not cease to exist; rather, the continue with back alley abortion and unnecessary death of women. SCOTUS must stand up for women’s rights to access medical care, regardless of her employers personal religious convictions.

  7. So explain this to me Libby; why is it that Pro-choice women always say “keep the government off my body” and similar crap when Obamacare has it’s hands all over the rest of a woman’s bodies now that it’s here? Please explain oh wise one,,,,, #hippocrite

    1. I am pro choice and I hate obamacare. I am not a liberal nor am I conservative. I believe in the state, federal government and religious groups minding their own damned business. My physical body and the foods i choose to put into it, what I allow in my uterus and anything just me are none of their or your business. Somehow they all think otherwise. I will have sex and I will be careful and unless something is terribly wrong I wouldnt get an abortion. I like sex and there is nothing wrong with that. I wont tell another what they should do with their body. Every woman should have easy access to contraceptives. Nothing wrong with keeping yourself safe and not contribute to the over population of the world and to the many children in foster care. The only reason why this is even in discussion is because of religious and patriarchal morons who cant give up that sex isnt something dirty or unclean. That a woman who has and/or enjoys sex with one man or a number of men are somehow sluts when a man who sleeps around and even unfaithful are not. Double standard and way beyond bs. I guess some of us were endowed by our creator with more sense and believe me you arent one of them. Also using the word ‘libby’ as a nickname for liberal is childish. If you cant use your big boy words you can just stay stay seated at the kiddy table.

  8. We women had better be thinking of a Plan B (no pun intended) if these Christianist wackos get their way. Can women be taught to help perform abortions if we need to? We need an underground railroad, of sorts, We need a network that can assist other women, without the knowledge of the political and legal establishment.
    It seems as if it will come to this, as I see the religious propaganda working on young women everywhere.

    1. The GOP needs cheap labor and war bait so they are going to be anti woman anyway they can be. Women need to stop giving to groups that work against us

    2. Christianist wackos? That’s not very nice. Just because somebody has a different religion than you doesn’t mean you need to poke fun at them. People are allowed to believe what they want! not everyone is the same as you

      1. Anyone who values a zygote/blastocyst/embryo/foetus over the health, safety, freedom and wellbeing of the person incubating the ZBEF is, by definition, a wacko. If you don’t believe that grown adults should have reproductive autonomy and the freedom to discuss their bodies and health with their doctors, free from the intrusion of politicians, then you are a wacko.

        Also, please note, ‘Christianist’=/=Christian.

        People are welcome to their own beliefs, but that’s as far as it goes. The christianists insist on their bullshit “beliefs” being forced down everybody else’s throats, enshrined into law, and used to control and punish any girl or woman rthat doesn’t conform to their narrow, legalistic, wholly manmade “doctrine”.

        They are wackos. They are dangerous, authoritarian, sociopathic thugs. If Jesus had existed he’d have despised them. Love and tolerance is as foreign to them as particle physics is to spaniels.

        If you share their beliefs then you’re as deranged and dangerous as they are.

  9. Reblogged this on TheZoo and commented:
    This is what the anti-choice crowd is creating for women all over this country. Laws against abortion do not stop abortion; they guarantee unsafe abortions.

    1. More women would have access to coat hangers than catheters.

      BUT I think it would be a lot better if women didn’t need to consider hangers or catheters or anything like that. I hope they would have economic and legal access to contraception, knowledge of how to use it properly, self-esteem and self-worth, supportive friends/family, safe and respectful partner(s)…and if somehow a woman ends up with a pregnancy can’t have for whatever reason (economic or medical or wrong time or whatever the reason), then she should be able to access safe, legal, affordable care and be treated respectfully and with kindness. Without “pro-life” protesters screaming at her and shoving graphic pictures at her on the walk in to the doctor’s office. Without self-appointed gynoticians legislating safe abortion out of her reach. Without pseudo-clinics tricking her or lying to her in order to force birth.

  10. The town I live in used to have two abortionists. One, who started her medical practice in 1912 and practiced until 1954, was a much respected citizen. Yes, everyone knew she performed abortions but she also provided healthcare, birth control (such as it existed) and arranged private adoptions, depending on what was best for the woman. Every doctor in town knew about her practice and were grateful to, especially the surgeons who had to clean up after the botched abortions. She was honored many times, on local, state, and a national level, for her efforts to provide healthcare for women in a rural area. Her name is remembered with fondness and honor today.
    The other one, a man, was eventually prosecuted for tax evasion because he didn’t care about the women or the consequences, just the money.
    Making abortion illegal doesn’t make it go away. It just punishes women for daring to have sex without male permission and for trying to make their own decisions about their own lives.

  11. If anyone is stupid enough to believe that cramming a coat hanger up their vagina is a good idea… Then it probably is cause they’re obviously not smart enough to raise a child either.

    1. People don’t always do the ‘smart’ thing when desperate.

      Don’t be such a judgmental ass.

    2. Desperate people with no options do desperate things. And it’s not so stupid, really. The insertion of a tool into the uterus to scrape out its contents is the most primitive and obvious way of performing an abortion, and coat hangers (and similar household tools often used for self-abortions or home abortions) are readily available, sufficiently rigid to do the job while simultaneously malleable to shape into a tool, and easily disposed of. It’s ingenious, really. Deadly and not anything anyone should ever feel forced to do, but there are far worse things done in the name of maintaining one’s life, every single day.

    3. Well you apparently manage to breathe and type at the same time, so there’s hope for everybody, isn’t there?

      Women forced into carrying on an unwanted pregnancy and giving birth to a child they do not want are not stupid, they’re desperate.

      How would you feel if you were facing what amounted to a ten month assault on your body? What about the genital pain and tearing that lasts hours, even days – sound fun to you? If the thought of ten months of slavery to a parasitic entity, legislated into existence by a mob of power-hungry, god-bothering, woman-hating bastards sounds like fun to you, then you’re clearly in need of therapy.

      Fear and desperation drives people to a lot worse than DIY abortion.

    4. Sometimes, doing stupid things is the only available option. Sometimes, women don’t HAVE access to a safe method.

    5. When abortion was still illegal in England, my dad’s aunt – who already had two kids, a husband who had committed suicide, and couldn’t afford to have his posthumous third child – tried to give herself an abortion with lye. Because no doctor would help her, and she had nowhere to turn. Know what lye does? Spoiler: it burns through tissue. Her son was the one that found her, and they had to sand out the burned-into-the-floor mark of her hand. Imagine what happened to her insides, and how horrific of a death she experienced. So tell me again, oh judgmental one, about “not being smart enough” to raise a child when you know NOTHING of being someone who is so desperate, and who has nowhere to turn, that she’s willing to take such drastic action.

  12. Gruesome reading but should be known to everyone just what so called prolife advocates are wishing upon women. Thank you.

  13. Thank you for witing this. I highly doubt that it will have any impact on the likes of Erick Ericson, but it’s important that this information is out there.

    That man,by the way, is absolutely evil, disgusting, and not at all representative of all Christians (as I assume that’s his big reason for being so

    1. Based on the dozens of D&C’s/ERPC’s I did for incomplete abortions (ie spontaneous miscarriages that weren’t going well all by themselves) when I was an obstetric resident for six months as part of a general practice residency, I’d say ’tissue’ is a far better descriptor than ‘baby’. Red spongy stuff halfway between lung and liver in both texture and colour. I’m assuming you have some sort of agenda from your comment, and the only reason in your mind that backstreet-style terminations shouldn’t happen is that a ‘baby’ is involved? The only appropriate reply is that I’m glad you have never found yourself pregnant and desperate with this as the only option. It has been 37 years since I started medical school, and I have delivered babies, terminated pregnancies, provided contraception and advised a host of weeping teens (and more than a few older women in the same boat). I am truly unimpressed with the utility of simplistic bronze-age desert tribal cultural norms for dealing with all these troubles.


      1. They always have an agenda.

        Notice – not a word about the girl or woman risking her life, no horror expressed at necrotic bowel, peritonitis, agonising death from septic shock. Nah, that would involve thinking of women as more than just ambulatory incubators.

        All you get is the inference that the products of conception are fully realised humans deserving of respect and compassion, that the tissue be referred to as a “baby” (which is just… lol. I’m imagining the conceptus in a onesie and a bonnet!), that the potential life is of greater importance than the living, loved, sentient woman it’s implanted in.

      2. I’m with Boostick, It’s an obvious agenda statement. Nothing about the woman, nothing about the constitutionally protected right to choose, nothing about the fact that it’s no one’s damn business what a woman does with her own body.
        Too many folks would rather wave that black leather bound book than sit and read where their god kills more ‘babies’ than any human possibly could. Never mind the fact that over 50% of conceptions end in miscarriage before the woman even knows she’s pregnant.

        Go away Becky, I hope you never end up counting days and sobbing while your husband beats you for getting knocked up by him.

      3. What amuses me about the replies you received is that people think “oh, THEY always have an agenda. But we’re being reasonable, rational, impartial, and unbiased.” Not surprisingly, that’s how the other side views many of you.
        The description of what happens with coat hanger attempts at abortion is horrifying and graphic, and rightly so. It’s eye opening to those who might not consider the ramifications of their attempts at changing policies. Well, maybe. I hope it is.
        For many of us, an equally in-depth and accurate description of what happens to the “tissue” during a proper, safe, careful abortion is just as horrifying and ghastly as what is written in this post. It’s not an agenda to me, it’s the thought of a human being at an early stage of development being carved up into pieces and sucked out with a glorified vacuum cleaner. I have a hard time getting behind that due to my sense that humans – all humans – are precious and valuable.
        A good solid description of the effects of poverty and lack of reliable care – or even better, time spent in person interacting with people living in those conditions – that would be a very important experience to hopefully change the hearts of many who are willing to cut aid to those in need while failing to provide the additional private charity to make up for the loss. I’ve ministered to people in Third World conditions with very little access to resources. It changes your understanding of what’s important in life.
        Even so, I struggle to accept the idea that we should terminate pregnancies for fear that life might be hard. To me, that’s not much different than saying we could terminate infants after birth (within a “reasonable” timeframe) if we think they’re going to have it hard or if we realize they’re not really wanted. Slippery slope fallacy? I guess, except people are already seriously advancing that argument.
        Some folk, on BOTH sides, are all about an agenda, sure. But broad-brush painting the entire opposition does nothing to advance helpful dialogue or persuade others to your side. Blanket judgments and assumptions aren’t going to make your case. Don’t treat me like an idiot simply because I disagree. Show me why you’re right. Show me why abortions are a necessary evil (as this post attempts to do).
        Otherwise, you might as well stop talking, because you’re not helping anyone.

      4. The only reason you would say “tissue” is to convince yourself it’s not really a human life in the early stages, a life that should be valued and protected. They have arms, legs, a heart, a brain, a spinal cord… Sounds like a baby.

        Let’s remove all steak knives from store shelves and all homes, while we are at it. Because desperate people, depressed people, drugged out people… they use them to hurt themselves.

        Look: I NEVER fault a woman for wanting to have an abortion, and there will always be options available for someone who feels desperate. Having a baby is scary, life-changing, and some just are not ready for it. There are clinics and doctors everywhere who will perform an abortion, and regardless of that fact, there will still be the occasional person who feels so desperate and emotional they just want to get things over with and will be unsafe about it. Duh.

        But, I do fault Planned Parenthood at least 95% of the time, because that is how much they *advocate for abortion*. It’s RARE that they ever counsel or encourage a female of any age to think about keeping the baby, or giving the baby to a family desperate for a baby who would give that child a good life and home. I fault the Democrat party for making this a political issue at all, and manipulating women, and men, through ridiculous fear tactics.

        Don’t want to have a baby? Don’t have sex. Be responsible. God will hold ALL men and women accountable for every abortion they have willingly supported or encouraged, and especially performed. Don’t think He approves, will remain silent on this issue, will know your heart and just overlook it, or won’t comment about the blood on the hands of everyone who continues to keep making this such an issue to begin with. That’s not me: that’s the truth about God.

        Personally, I think it’s the female’s choice. But, she has to know that God will not just look away from it and forget. Repent and seek God while He may still be found.

        I didn’t start out to write all of this, but this generation of abortion gung-ho people need to be told.

      5. “But, I do fault Planned Parenthood at least 95% of the time, because that is how much they *advocate for abortion*.”

        Planned Parenthood does a lot more than abortion or advocate for abortion. I believe you must have heard this from some slanted source like Fox News.

        Abortion accounts for about 3% of the services provide by Planned Parenthood. They spend a lot more of their time providing contraceptive information.

        The agenda being pushed by a lot of the “pro-life” crowd includes stopping any useful sex education too. That doesnt’ make sense if it was really about stopping abortions. Good sex education and easily available contraception would make sense for that goal.

        It’s about controlling women. Notice that none of the anti-abortion laws have penalties for the male involved in this conception.

      6. who gives a shit about all of that? People need to take responsibility for their actions. If hey get pregnant from unprotected sex (that is not rape), then they need to pay the consequences. Who shoves a stick up their vagina because they don’t want to tell their parents or boyfriend? Yes the woman should be treated properly and not get hurt, but being able to get an abortion is not “being able to make her own choices”, it’s her excuse to not take responsibility. They don’t care about the tissue/baby or whatever inside of them, they care about the consequences. The baby doesn’t count as a baby until there is a heartbeat. Maybe we need to focus more on the source of the problem, not whether the woman can get an abortion or not. This shouldn’t even be a problem.

      7. The baby doesn’t count as a baby until there is a heartbeat birth.

        There, fixed it for ya. You need all the help you can get with all that internalised misogyny weighing you down.

        If you are actually a woman, just know that no matter how misogynist, bigoted and spiteful you are, your sisters around the world will fight for your rights and defend them at any cost, even as you seek to strip others of their rights, as you shame them for the circumstances they find themselves in, and even as you labour under the delusion that degrading and denigrating other women somehow elevates your status in the eyes of men. Hint : it doesn’t, and one day soon they’ll be coming for your right to autonomy.

      8. BTW “Caitlin”, this has to be one of the most depressing, myopic viewpoint that is spewed by the anti-choice terrorists:

        People need to take responsibility for their actions. If hey get pregnant from unprotected sex (that is not rape), then they need to pay [sic] the consequences

        Anyone who views pregnancy, childbirth and babies not as powerful events that produce outward ripples of joy and love, but as nothing more than a punishment for sex, is broken almost beyond repair. It’s good that you said it though, because it puts the lie to the anti-choice junta’s claim that their jihad is about “life”.

        It isn’t though, is it? It’s about punishing women for being fully-fledged individuals with needs and desires, rather than merely the property of either the man who fathered her, or the one her father “gives her away” to. It’s about keeping women “in their place”, permapregnant, isolated, and dependent on a man. It’s about sending a sign to other girls and women who *gasp* have the audacity to believe that they’re free and independent owners of their bodies and lives, it’s the scarlet letter that traps women forever, ties them to a man they may never wish to meet again, or who may be a risk to their safety. It’s about impoverishing women socially as well as financially, forcing them to put aside dreams and aspirations, all for the “crime” of having sex

        Do you think that women you categorise as stupid, lazy and irresponsible should be in charge of a baby, tasked with raising a child to adulthood?. What punishment should men face for having sex, if women gave to endure almost a year of carrying a parasitic lifeforms that is built with bits of her own body, and then forced into 18+ years of sercvitude, raising an unwanted child. Any ideas? Perhaps a facial tattoo that says “fornicator”?

        Abortions save lives. They not only prevent deaths from things like pregnancy induced strokes and DVT, or problems like HELLP or extra-uterine pregnancy, but they also eliminate the biggest cause of death in pregnancy. Do you know what that is, “Caitlin”? I’m sure someone as all-knowing as yourself, the self-appointed arbiter of reproductive choice, will know that the leading cause of death in pregnancy is murder. Pregnant women are routinbely beaten, stabbed, shot and choked to death by their significant others. Go to your local ER and ask about how many times a woman almost at full-term is brought to them with mortal wounds, how long the foetus struggles after the woman stops breathing. Ask the local police department how many callouts they’ve had to situations where a husband has murdered his pregnant wife, ask what it was like to see that.

        Termination procedures, from the medical through to the surgical, are safer than many minor procedures like dental work, and are almost infinitely safer than elective cosmetic surgeries and treatments. Getting a “Brazilian bkowouyt” on your hair is more dangerous and has more potential side effects than a termination of pregnancy.

        But thanks for playing, thanks for confirming that the misogynist anti-choice cadre care only about punishing and humiliating women and girls, rather than their big lie, that they ate “pro-life. We all know that, but its nice to see it in black and white once in a while.”

  14. Way back in the dark ages, my plan for an unwanted pregnancy involved liquid drain cleaner.
    Their schemes aren’t really about loving babies, anyway. If it was, they wouldn’t be cutting aid and food for poor children. It’s more about Planned Parenthood providing a lot of low cost medical care. Big money health care facilities want that business and the profits that come with it. The GOP caring about people? I don’t think so. It’s about the money.
    On another facet of this issue: If I were to find out that the fetus growing in my womb was horribly deformed, who are these people to tell me that I must force my child to be born into it? Spiritually, I believe it is more loving to tell my child, “Wait. Let me try again to form a body that will serve you well before you come into my life.” I resent being forced to practice their religion.

  15. I’m old enough to remember the horrid ways women used to abort their unwanted pregnancies. I can’t believe this discussion is happening. Women can not be made to procreate in order to prevent the demographic shift in our country.

  16. I just finished the summer pre-matriculation program at the UIC College of Medicine and we did a little bit of reproductive physiology and histology. Egad, like you wrote here, there’s just so much that could go wrong with a coat-hanger abortion. I don’t understand how this could be a laughing matter for anyone.

    1. “Shines the light” on why safe, legal abortion should continue to be available to all who request it. To have to rely on Do-It-Yourself abortion methods absent safe, medically-assisted abortion availability is equivalent to advocating mass murder on an entire group of otherwise healthy woman, wanting only to exercise their government mandated right to choose. Who are the real murderers here?

    2. women are supposed to suffer according to religious men and women keep buying into it. So a woman who dies this way is just showing their rather ugly god’s will. that guy is like a 12 year old spoiled boy! And the same people who would stand aside and love watching her die,will tell you that its god’s will and sex is evil! WE women need to work on getting the a Reproductive Rights act passed!

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