The Coat Hanger "May Be The Symbol, But Is In No Way A Myth," Says Pre-Roe OB-GYN

Coat hangers seem almost delicate when you hear retired gynecologist Dr. Waldo Fielding talk about what he saw in a New York City ER sixty years ago. "Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion - darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off," he says in an essay in the New York Times today reminding people of what life was really like before doctors could safely give women surgical abortions. Several of Fielding's patients arrived at the ER "with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in - perhaps the patient herself - found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it." The worst case Dr. Fielding ever saw is after the jump, and it's not for the faint of heart or stomach.

The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.

Though I realize I am mostly preaching to the choir by reprinting Fielding's experiences of the terrible, pre-legal-abortion world, I think it needs to be said over and over again, especially when certain people say things like, "Scream Roe v. Wade till you're blue in the face. It won't make me any more likely to vote for Obama." Because if an anti-choice politician is elected to president, with so many of the liberal Supreme Court Justices in their waning twilight years, there is a very real chance that Roe could be overturned or severely restricted.

Dr. Fielding continues: "What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens - and freeing their doctors to treat them as such." I think treating women as first-class citizens is something we can all get behind, regardless of political affiliations.

Repairing The Damage, Before Roe [NYT]