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  • Writer's pictureDoctors for Choice

Why is the wire coat hanger a symbol of abortion rights?

When abortion is illegal, women and girls with unwanted pregnancies are unable to terminate their pregnancy in healthcare facilities such as abortion clinics and hospitals, and are forced to resort to dangerous methods to end their pregnancy. These dangerous methods include taking poisons, causing deliberate injury to the abdomen, pumping corrosive substances through the vagina, and inserting foreign objects into the uterus through the cervix. The wire coat hanger, because it has a thin metal wire that can be bent and can fit through the cervix, has been used by women who are unable to get a legal abortion to terminate their pregnancy at home.

As you can imagine, inserting a sharp object into the uterus is extremely dangerous, and can lead to perforation of the uterus, infections, severe bleeding, and may fail to end the pregnancy after all. However, history has taught us that when abortion is illegal, women and girls with unwanted pregnancies will resort to dangerous methods rather than be forced to give birth against their will.

This is why pro-choice activists state that safe, legal abortion protects women's health and lives. When abortion is done legally with safe methods, the risks of injury and death from an abortion are less than those from childbirth. When women and girls with unwanted pregnancies can access legal abortions, they do not have to resort to dangerous methods at home.

In Malta, abortion is illegal in all cases, and is not provided in hospitals. However, abortion telemedicine services such as Women on Web and Women Help Women allow people in Malta to access relatively safe abortions. This is because these organisations provide kits that contain Mifepristone and Misoprostol, which are the medicines recommended by the World Health Organsiation to terminate a pregnancy, and provide people with instructions on how to use them. The reason we tell people in Malta about these telemedicine services - despite them being illegal - is because these services are preventing people from having to resort to dangerous abortion methods, and therefore keep women and girls safe.

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