The Rise of DIY Abortions | New Republic
Techniques for terminating a pregnancy can be found in the Bible, on Egyptian papyrus, and in Chinese records dating to around 500 B.C. There are too many to list, but women have attempted home abortions with mercury, quinine, pennyroyal, iron sulfates, and a mixture of camel saliva and deer hair; Hippocrates once advised a prostitute to jump up and down.
Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, American women inserted knitting needles and other sharp objects into their cervixes to end unwanted pregnancies. They put dangerous drugs like the tissue-destroying potassium permanganate into their vaginas, which typically failed to terminate pregnancy but sometimes caused hemorrhage. Elihu Sussman, a retired New York City pediatrician who was working as a medical student at Boston City Hospital in the 1960s, says, “There were thirty beds, and some of them were always filled with women who came in because of septic abortions—four, five, six at any given time.” His wife, Geraldine Sussman, was a student nurse at Bellevue in New York during the same period. “They’d use coat hangers, laundry detergent products,” she says. “A lot of them would rupture their uteruses and end up with hysterectomies. People now don’t realize what it was like. It was awful.”