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Self-Help Kit Gives Women Control of Their Abortions

November 19, 1989|DIANNE KLEIN

The device is nothing more than a small glass jar, a plastic stopper, two tubes of the type used in home aquariums, a plastic syringe fitted with an automatic valve, and a flexible narrow tube known as a Karman cannula.

"The cannula goes into the uterus," Rothman says, placing the tube into a glass of water that represents the uterus. Then she pulls back on the syringe and water races through one of the tubes and into the glass jar.

"That's all there is to it," she says.

But there is more to it than that, of course. Rothman, who asks that I not name the city where she lives, knows that better than most. Anti-abortionists have threatened her. Two of the federation's health clinics have been firebombed.

Officials from California's Department of Health Services recently watched "No Going Back," and warned the film's producers that, under a 1976 law, it is illegal to manufacture or sell the menstrual extraction kit without formal state approval.

The federation's attorney has argued that the same law allows devices manufactured before 1976, such as the IUD, to be grandfathered in. Rothman says the self-help group likes to call her device "extralegal," because it has not been challenged in court.

Rothman acknowledges that self-help groups are not for every woman, nor are they meant to be.

"And we would never even imply that women should do it on themselves," she says. "That would not be safe and you would have to be a contortionist. . . . But a lot of women feel better with the knowledge that abortion is not this heavy-duty thing that is so dangerous. Far from it. Women can learn about abortion."

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