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Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blogger's how-to for abortions stirs debate

Newhouse News Service

A feminist blogger has posted explicit directions online for a surgical abortion, in reaction to the new South Dakota law all but banning the procedure.

Her action troubles activists on both sides of the issue: Is it a harbinger of a return to the era of secret, illegal abortions?

At her "Molly Saves the Day" Web log, the 21-year-old Florida resident uses the pseudonym Molly Blythe. Given the volatility of the abortion debate, she requested that her real name and city of residence not be used in this story.

In an interview, the blogger said South Dakota's ban on abortion — even in cases of rape and incest — prompted her post, "For the Women of South Dakota: An Abortion Manual." The blogger, who has no medical background, said she has been compiling instructions for several years.

She posted directions for a dilation and curettage — or D and C — abortion, and plans to post online the steps for a vacuum-aspiration abortion.

"If anyone has a problem with this and they don't think non-doctors should perform medical procedures, there's a simple way to guarantee that won't happen: Make sure Roe v. Wade is not overturned," she said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

The blogger — whose home page describes "Molly Saves the Day" as "feminist issues, liberal talk and news analysis from a former journalist turned phone sex operator" — said she has received nearly 700 e-mails since the Feb. 23 posting, "a lot from people who say I'm going to hell and they'd do their best to put me there." Others thank her.

Her posting troubles anti-abortion and abortion-rights activists alike.

Olivia Gans, an abortion opponent who now regrets her own 1981 abortion, said she finds it "terrifying that anyone could advocate creating a subculture in which this dangerous, potentially deadly practice would be performed."

Gans, director of American Victims of Abortion, an outreach program of the National Right to Life Committee, added that such "scare tactics" are used by "pro-abortion groups whose agenda is more important than women's lives."

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Vicki Saporta, who heads the National Abortion Federation, an industry group for practitioners, said: "Women want to be treated by a medical professional, not by a friend. I don't see Roe falling. And if it were to fall, there'd be enough states where abortion was still legal that women could get on a bus."

The blogger disagrees.

"Worst-case scenario: A woman needs an abortion but doesn't have a job, or one that lets her leave the state," she said.

She said she began to worry when President Bush made two appointments to the Supreme Court, presumably tilting it further right.

"I'm not advocating back-alley abortions," she said. "But we need to make this information available. I firmly believe that abortion is something that can be done by someone who is not an M.D."

For years, it was. Before 1973, abortion was largely illegal, but hardly rare.

"Every town in America had someone who did these things," said Rickie Solinger of New Paltz, N.Y., author of several books on abortion history.

In "The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law," Solinger profiled Ruth Barnett of Portland, who performed about 40,000 abortions from 1918-68. "Everyone knew where her office was," Solinger said.

Before Roe, rural women especially faced difficulties of access, said David Cline, a Durham, N.C., historian and author of the new book "Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961-1973."

Cline focused on the small towns of the Pioneer Valley around Springfield, Mass., typical of communities across the country with secret networks. "The underground abortion movement there was not just activists and feminists, but was composed of the backbone families of these small, very conservative Massachusetts towns," Cline said.

Another group was the Jane movement of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. From 1969-73, about 125 members counseled and educated women on abortion, learned to perform the procedure and ran clandestine surgical clinics in apartments.

Workers went by the name Jane. One was Laura Kaplan, who wrote the 1996 book "The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service."

"In the pre-Roe era there was massive, massive, massive civil disobedience," Kaplan said. "Breaking this law was something people did regularly, all the time."

However, Kaplan cautioned, "I don't think you can learn to do abortions in a correspondence course. Our process in Jane was a very long and careful apprenticeship. It's a fairly straightforward procedure, but there are all kinds of caveats."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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