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Alternative to Clinics : Feminists Teaching Home Procedure

August 14, 1989|KAREN TUMULTY

If the courts take abortion rights away, some groups vow they will literally take the power to end a pregnancy into their own hands.

The Los Angeles-based Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers has begun distributing a videotape that teaches women how they can perform a controversial type of early abortion in small, "self-help groups."

The federation has sold hundreds of copies of the 28-minute videotape at $25 each, said Shauna Heckert, a member of the federation board. By the end of the year, the group also will sponsor a nationwide tour to instruct women in the technique, she said.

Heckert added that the videotape also has symbolic value in the struggle over the abortion issue. "It was designed to let the Supreme Court know that there are a certain number of women in society who have access to the technique of early abortion, and who are going to teach other women that technique," she said.

The home procedure, known as "menstrual extraction," has drawn fire from doctors, who say it can cause infection and may miss the fertilized egg. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups have condemned the idea.

A member of a self-help group would be able to perform menstrual extraction on another who was in the early weeks of pregnancy by using a suction device made up of a syringe, a small jar and plastic tubing.

The federation will sell a menstrual extraction kit for about $90, but the equipment also may be put together at home, Heckert said.

The procedure takes about 30 minutes to remove the contents of the uterus, the federation says in its videotape, compared with about five minutes for the typical abortion performed in a clinic.

Menstrual extraction has also come to the attention of the California Department of Health Services. Chris Wogee, who is supervising the investigation for the department's food and drug branch, said that any medical device must be approved by federal and state officials before it is marketed.

Its manufacturing facility must be licensed, Wogee said, and the device must carry adequate instructions and warnings on its label.

The department has yet to determine, however, whether any such kit is being marketed, he said. "If somebody wanted to make this thing in their home, there's no way we could stop them."

Heckert acknowledged that menstrual extraction poses "some risk," but insisted that it would be less dangerous than the "horrific methods that were used when abortion was inaccessible."

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