As it was in the days leading up to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, there is today an abortion underground preparing to commit abortions in a post-Roe America. Despite past (and debunked) pro-abortion claims that hundreds of thousands of women died from illegal self-abortions prior to decriminalization, modern abortion underground efforts are largely focused on the promotion of DIY, or self-managed, abortions.
In 1959, Mary S. Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, acknowledged that “physicians of impeccable standing are referring their patients for these illegal abortions to the colleagues whom they know are willing to perform them…” She called abortion “no longer a dangerous procedure,” because it was being committed by physicians, claiming that “…90 per cent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians.”
Later, Planned Parenthood president Alan Guttmacher in 1967 claimed, “Seventy per cent of the illegal abortions in the country are performed by reputable physicians, each thinking himself a knight in white armor.” And in a recent UCSF Innovating Education training module, former abortionist Carole Joffe described those “who provided abortions” during a “huge huge market of illegal abortion” as “doctors of conscience” and “well trained people who were established in the medical practice,” adding that they were “physicians – mainly male.”
“We had to create a fear of back alley and illegal abortion in order to pursue Roe v Wade,” abortion activist Maggie Mayhem told an audience on her video, “Hackers in a Post Roe v. Wade World.” She added that “it wasn’t necessarily as honest as it was politically advantageous to talk about it the way we did.”
Prior to Roe, the New York-based Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS) helped women obtain illegal abortions from physicians. According to Time.com, the CCS, started by Rev. Howard Moody of the Judson Memorial Church in New York City in 1967, acted under what they claimed to be “higher laws and moral obligations transcending legal codes.” In Chicago, volunteers with a group called the Jane Collective referred patients to abortionists, later learning to commit abortions and performing about 12,000 abortions between 1969 to 1973, according to The Atlantic. Films about past underground networks are currently being produced, including “This is Jane” for Amazon Studios and “The Janes,” which will premiere as part of the Doc10 Documentary Film Festival.
READ: Pro-life lawmakers should focus on halting the growth of virtual abortion pill dispensaries
Modern networks developing
Modern abortion efforts are instructing activists to create devices to carry out dangerous, DIY abortions using a mason jar, a rubber stopper, a syringe, aquarium tubing, a plastic speculum, a cannula, and a one-way valve, The Atlantic reported.
“So this is a device with a few components. One of them is a needleless syringe, which creates suction. The other most important one is something called a cannula. It is a flexible plastic tube that’s used to be introduced into the uterus and is used also for suction. In the middle, there is a mason jar that’s connected to both of those elements using aquarium tubing. And there’s also a one-way valve that prevents backflow,” Journalist Jessica Bruder, author of the Atlantic piece, told NPR.
The idea behind this seedy contraption began with Carol Downer, founder of the Feminist Women’s Health Centers, years before abortion was legal. Downer developed the practice of “menstrual extraction,” creating an underground network of unlicensed women who performed home abortions. “The ‘menstrual’ in the title comes because Downer says the procedure was only performed when a woman’s period was due, and they wouldn’t take a pregnancy test beforehand. That way, everyone had plausible deniability,” wrote KPCC.org.
Today, those same proposed euphemisms are referring to use of the abortion pill regimen as “missed period pills” or “later period pills.”
Bruder’s Atlantic piece, “A Covert Network of Activists is Preparing for the End of Roe,” read in part, “A sprawling grassroots infrastructure has already grown in the cracks… even with Roe still the law of the land. More than 90 local organizations known as abortion funds raise money to pay for procedures and related expenses… Below the grass roots is the underground: a small network of community providers who connect with abortion seekers by word of mouth. This network, too, is growing. Its ranks include midwives, herbalists, doulas, and educators. When necessary, they are often willing to work around the law.”
Bruder even described a Zoom meeting where abortion advocates learn about “ending pregnancies with legal drugs and without medical supervision.” Bruder claimed that curriculum was developed by Susan Yanow, spokesperson for SASS—Self-Managed Abortion; Safe and Supported.
Community providers in the abortion underground
“So there’s a network of people in general who refer to themselves as community providers. And the idea is a community provider could be anybody who’s willing to connect women with abortion pills who might not otherwise be able to get them, or in some cases, offer alternate options,” Bruder told NPR.
An activist who attended network training described being led to a home which “belonged to a set designer” where “the roughly 20 students practiced in themed rooms, giving one another vaginal exams and checking blood pressure.”
According to The Guardian:
Partway through the workshop, a pregnant woman arrived who had agreed to let them witness her abortion by a Del-Em, a homemade suction device invented by female activists in 1971, when abortion was still outlawed. It was built from a Mason jar, a one-way valve, and two lines of plastic tubing – one that leads to a cannula, a medical straw that removes fluids, and another that leads to a syringe without a needle, which can be pumped to create suction.
A student threw a floral blanket on the leather bed, and Anna hid the masks that lined the room. The woman entered and lay on her back before a midwife, who set a speculum around her cervix, peered inside her vagina with a headlamp, and inserted the cannula into the uterus. The students watched as the client pumped the syringe, blood slugging down the see-through tube.
Writer Nina Liss-Shultz, who authored “Inside the Top-Secret Abortion Underground” published by Mother Jones, claims to have talked to dozens of “clandestine providers, and our conversations offer a rare glimpse into a world that is shrouded in secrecy and fear.” As one secretive online resource for underground providers puts it, Liss-Schultz wrote, “Clinical abortion care plays a vital role,” but “we all deserve the right to choose how, where, and with whom we want to have our abortions.”
Abortion pills part of post-Roe strategy
Melissa Grant, chief operations officer for Carafem, told Today about obtaining abortion pills online or in stores from Mexico. An underground network promoting illegal abortions was highlighted recently in a Vice News mini-documentary, while Mexican abortion activists are conspiring to smuggle abortion pills into Texas.
Ordering abortion pills in advance of a pregnancy is another tactic.
A woman in Texas ordered pills from Aid Access, telling The Insider she did it in the event that “she or a friend needed an abortion in the future.” Another Texas woman, who wanted abortion pills for her “arsenal,” told KVUE she was not pregnant but was stockpiling abortion pills “[f]or a woman, a friend, a family member, a neighbor who is in need and needs these pills.”
Abortion pill referral website Plan C is now advising women how to skirt state laws which prohibit online sales of the abortion drug regimen, by using the postal service’s “general delivery” program. The online abortion pill dispensary, Abortion Delivered, is planning to deploy mobile abortion vans stocked with abortion pills outside the Texas border, according to the Atlantic. “[B]asically, there’ll be a doctor who is able to provide manual vacuum aspiration abortions in that van. It will have a table and an ultrasound and all that. And the other van will have somebody who can prescribe and administer abortion pills,” Bruder told NPR.
Should complications arise, women are advised to present to hospital ERs and lie by claiming they are having a natural miscarriage. Dr. Daniel Grossman recently suggested that emergency doctors should avoid documenting abortion pill complications to hide information from law enforcement in a potentially post-Roe environment.
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