Ask referring to the above picture, from this post.
The coathanger image refers to a method of abortion. It’s commonly colloquially called a ‘coathanger abortion’, and I think you can probably guess how it works. It’s an incredibly dangerous procedure that has been frequently used throughout history to terminate pregnancies when access to medical abortions is restricted or unavailable.
The image is a plea for abortion legislation to allow safe abortions so that women can safely end a pregnancy without having to resort to such awful methods, because these types of coathanger abortions are prevalent mostly in countries where abortion is either illegal or restricted. When a woman becomes pregnant and doesn’t want or can’t keep the baby, that desperation can drive them to dangerous measures.
Put it this way. My grandmother was a midwife / nurse from the 1940s right through to the 1980s. Abortion was legalised in medical circumstances in the UK in 1967. Throughout her career up to this point, she saw a number of women undergo abortions, despite them being illegal at the time. Methods she saw women attempt included sitting in baths of almost boiling water, taking small doses of poison, throwing themselves down flights of stairs, and paying backstreet doctors to use knitting needles or coathangers to perform rudimentary surgical procedures, usually in their living rooms without anaesthetic. She saw dozens and dozens of cases like this, because there was no legal or safe way for a woman to terminate her pregnancy, and they saw no other option but to risk their own health - and often their life - to try and do it themselves. It’s worth noting that my grandmother worked in a very poor area, where many women didn’t have access to contraception - the pill wasn’t widely available until the 1960s - and couldn’t afford to support another child.
After the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, legalising abortion on medical grounds (including the mental health of the mother, meaning that if doctors determined the woman was likely to suffer psychologically from having the child, she would be permitted an abortion), the number of cases of illegal abortions dropped substantially. Of course, my grandmother still had to treat women who’d undergone illegal and dangerous abortions; abortions were still very controversial and not easily accessible if you didn’t have medical grounds.
She told me that, in her belief, the total number of actual abortions didn’t actually increase after abortion became legal. What did increase was the number of safe, legal abortions that didn’t pose a health risk to the mother. The number stayed relatively stable; what swayed was the ratio of dangerous abortions to safe ones.
This is why I have no empathy for pro-life campaigners who protest with the intention to ban abortion. We have irrefutable evidence throughout history that banning abortion doesn’t work. Banning abortions doesn’t eradicate them; it just makes them illegal, and forces pregnant women who want to end their pregnancy to seek alternative and often dangerous methods to do so.
Looking back through history, there’s an obvious difference between the brutality of abortion procedures available in areas and periods where abortion was legal or illegal. For example, abortion was acceptable in Ancient Greece. Philosophers and scientists theorised that, as the foetus grew inside the mother and depended on her, it was more like a plant than a human. Accordingly, they allowed abortion up to between 40 and 90 days, depending on which historical record you read. Doctors researched safe ways of inducing abortion, leading to several medically approved methods, most of which were still relatively unsafe but did not immediately jeopardise the life of the mother. The methods they used ranged from orally ingesting a herbal mixture of rue and dill, prescribed by a doctor, to fasting. However, abortion was illegal in Assyrian law (unless ordered by the husband) - subsequently, no safe methods were ever sought, and methods of abortion generally included bloodletting, burning the abdomen with boiling water or heated materials, and partaking in extremely strenuous labour.
When an anti-abortionist protests against the legality of abortion, they are not protesting in order to stop abortion itself. They are protesting against the availability of safe abortions, and that’s an entirely different thing. They’re condemning desperate women to risk their health and their lives in order to end a pregnancy that they cannot, for a number of reasons, continue. I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that the majority of women would much prefer a medically approved abortion to a risky backstreet procedure, but I also don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that some women are so desperate to terminate their pregnancy that they feel they have no other choice but to opt for the latter.
Anti-abortionists call themselves pro-life, but what they really are is anti-choice; they don’t save lives by restricting abortions. They just end different ones.