Recently protesters against the overturning of U.S.abortion law have often shown the “coat hanger” as the symbolic image of illegal abortion.

An extract from Wikipedia reads:

In a letter to The New York Times, gynecologist Waldo L. Fielding wrote:

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous "coat hanger" — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived 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...

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Was this practice, I mean the use of a hanger (as dangerous and desperate as it may be) really common in illegal abortion cases or was it more a one-off episode that became emblematic of the risks and dangers of not having a legal support for abortion?

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    Is anyone claiming that the use of coat hanger is a myth? The quote in your extract says the exact opposite. Do you have reason to doubt Dr. Fielding's anecdote?
    – F1Krazy
    May 5, 2022 at 8:51
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    I see no contradiction. Was it used? Source says yes. Is it a staple symbol? Definitely. (And such a symbol does not spring to life from nowhere; either the use was common or there is some "popular source" for the myth / symbol.) Are non-clinical abortions a practice that includes severe health hazards? Definitely. -- Personally, I'd be more interested in the history twist: How did the coat hanger become a symbol for non-clinical abortion? That would probably answer all the corollaries as well.
    – DevSolar
    May 5, 2022 at 9:08
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    "Women reported use of abortifacient agents such as livestock droppings, drinking chemicals and detergents, herbal medicines, and overdoses of over-the-counter medications, as well as insertion of sharp objects into the uterus."
    – DevSolar
    May 5, 2022 at 12:03
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    @pipe: We accept questions about commonly accepted claims, if they are asked about in good faith.
    – Oddthinking
    May 5, 2022 at 16:21
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    It's fine to be skeptical, but there is a certain onus of responsibility that is expected from researchers prior to being skeptical about a claim. The level of responsibility is even higher in socially sensitive topics and/or topics where validation of the claim is already provided in the existing research on the topic. In short, this seems to be a ply, i.e., an attempt to discredit generations of survivors under the guise of skepticism in order to promote a current political agenda.
    – oemb1905
    May 5, 2022 at 20:11

4 Answers 4


Here are some examples of the use of coat hangers for self-induced abortion in the literature that shows that this is not a myth:

  • Okonofua, F. E., Onwudiegwu, U., & Odunsi, O. A. (1992). Illegal Induced Abortion: A Study of 74 Cases in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Tropical Doctor, 22(2), 75–78. doi:10.1177/004947559202200209 10.1177/004947559202200209

    This study looked at 74 women who were interviewed about the complications that occurred after their induced abortions. Fourteen of the women had self-induced abortions:

    The methods of self induction of abortion in the 14 women were: self instrumentation with pins, needles and coat hangers (4), insertion of native vaginal pessaries (2), ingestion of 'tablets' (2), 'injections' (2), ingestion of strong alcoholic drinks (2), vaginal instillation of potash (1) and vaginal instillation of gunpowder (1)

  • Woman Accused of Coat-Hanger Abortion Pleads Guilty to Felon, New York Times, 2017

    A Tennessee woman jailed for more than a year after trying to use a coat hanger to abort her 24-week-old fetus pleaded guilty on Monday to one felony count in exchange for her immediate release from jail.

  • Saultes TA, Devita D, Heiner JD. The back alley revisited: sepsis after attempted self-induced abortion. West J Emerg Med. 2009;10(4):278-280.

    A transabdominal ultrasound revealed a twin pregnancy at 21 weeks gestation, no obvious evidence of abruption, and a significant amount of abdominal free fluid. She then confessed to attempting to end her pregnancy earlier that day by passing a coat hanger deep into her vagina until she felt a “pop,” [...]

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    Common household object, which can be bent to shape. Rounded edges won't puncture internal organs. Think of another household object that meets those characteristics. May 6, 2022 at 10:00
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    @spikey_richie, yes, I understand that, but the bad-result incidents in this and the other questions seem to imply that it is the pointy end that is used, and usually without even rudimentary knowledge of anatomy, resulting in poking holes in oneself rather than the intended target. May 6, 2022 at 12:28
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    @RayButterworth yeah, that's the...ehm..point. Because the object needs to do some damage to induce the abortion it's impossible to be completely safe. Hence the need for trained personnel (i.e. doctors and nurses) to do it properly and as-safe-as-possible
    – Borgh
    May 6, 2022 at 14:17
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    I am feeling uncomfortable about offering a step-by-step guide here.
    – Oddthinking
    May 6, 2022 at 16:05
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    @RayButterworth why don't you think there would be rudimentary knowledge of anatomy? I strongly suspect that even failed attempts would have been done with considerable anatomical knowledge.
    – Clumsy cat
    May 6, 2022 at 21:03

The bad old days: clandestine abortions among the poor in New York City before liberalization of the abortion law (1976) points out the use of coat hangers (for methods people know about):

A few respondents cited coat hangers and knitting needles, as well as piece of bark.

For methods actually used, they don't specify, but note that "uterine insertion" was the most common used type with 33% when asking people what methods friends they knew had an unsafe abortion used, and the second most used (19%) when asking affected women themselves.

Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality (2009) looked at wordwide cases and also specifically points out coat hangers:

68,000 women die of unsafe abortion annually


Methods of unsafe abortion include drinking toxic fluids such as turpentine, bleach, or drinkable concoctions mixed with livestock manure. Other methods involve inflicting direct injury to the vagina or elsewhere—for example, inserting herbal preparations into the vagina or cervix; placing a foreign body such as a twig, coat hanger, or chicken bone into the uterus; or placing inappropriate medication into the vagina or rectum.

  • 3
    This answer would be more effective if the claim originated prior to Roe v. Wade (1976). May 5, 2022 at 21:27
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    Is the figure 68,000 meant to represent an unusually large or unusually small number? Absolute numbers can be misleading without something to compare them too. For instance, it is quite large compared with the number of deaths due to safe abortions, but quite small compared with a million deaths due to unsafe drinking water. May 6, 2022 at 12:37
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    @RayButterworth It represents a not insignificant number. I don't think it's required to set it in proportion to anything. 68000 easily preventable deaths is a meaningful number on its own, which shows that unsafe abortions, such as via coat hangers, are an existing phenomenon.
    – tim
    May 6, 2022 at 13:22
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    @RayButterworth: FWIW, that figure represents approximately 0.004% of the world's reproductive-age women, 0.15% of women who get abortions, or 0.34% of women who get illegal abortions, assuming that the denominators I found on Google are accurate.
    – dan04
    May 6, 2022 at 19:25

According to The Guardian, a case happened in 2015.

This past September in Tennessee, 31-year-old Anna Yocca allegedly got into her bathtub and tried to end her pregnancy using a wire hanger. When the bleeding became out of control, her boyfriend drove her to a nearby hospital.

There's further coverage in Time (2017) of that case.

Anna Yocca attempted to abort her 24-week fetus with a coat hanger in her bathtub in September 2015, according to police reports. [...]

The murder charge against Yocca was dismissed in February 2016, but she was then re-indicted under the state’s controversial fetal assault law, which was passed in 2014 and used primarily against women who take drugs during their pregnancy. After that law ended in July 2016, Yocca was again re-indicted on three new felonies, including an attempted criminal abortion and attempted procurement of a miscarriage — two laws that originated in the 19th century.


Googling "close hanger abortion UK" found quite a few hits, Some snipped below.

Of course Google is not a study. Others have posted such, from other non-American countries.

Desperate women 'using coat hangers' to abort pregnancieshttps://www.thetimes.co.uk › article › desperate-women-u... Oct 12, 2017 — Irish women who cannot access abortion are using coat hangers and drinking bleach to end their pregnancies, TDs and senators have been told.

Step-granddad performed coat hanger abortion after raping ...https://metro.co.uk › News › UK Apr 13, 2019 — A woman has revealed the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-grandfather who raped her from the age of seven.

But also contradictory, from the UK pro-life movement

The myth of the coat hanger abortion | MercatorNethttps://mercatornet.com › the-myth-of-the-abortion-coa... Oct 24, 2017 — When in 1938 Britain established the Birkett inquiry into illegal abortion, wooden hangers were prized possessions; the one I inherited was ...

  • 6
    I think your answer would be improved if you included links to the articles you mention. Also, I'd suggest using the blockquote mark-up to make it clear what is quoted and what is not. May 6, 2022 at 1:50
  • @ChrisBouchard I agree about the links, but I also think that stack exchange could be improved if it supported copy/paste of HTML text with links in it, rather than flattening it to plain text. Yeah, yeah, I know…
    – Krazy Glew
    May 6, 2022 at 3:33
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    Errr... no. HTML does not lend itself to manual editing. Besides, copying HTML source from a website could very quickly cross into license issue country, quite aside from security issues. Sites like this, or e.g. Wikipedia, are using some variation of Wiki markup for very good reasons...
    – DevSolar
    May 6, 2022 at 8:30

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