On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States held that women had a right to terminate their pregnancies. The case was Roe v Wade and no other Supreme Court case has had such a dramatic impact on the lives of women in this country.
Prior to that case, most states banned abortion. Of course, those states could not ban the desire of a woman to obtain an abortion. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, women faced with an unwanted pregnancy have always at least considered abortion and some obtained them. That meant that many women each year were procuring illegal abortions.
The world of illegal abortion was always a world of whispers. A woman would “get in trouble” and, if she felt there was absolutely no way that she could have the baby, she would quietly start talking to anyone she could trust. In every major city, there always seemed to be a least one doctor who would be willing to do the abortion, but these “abortionists” usually performed these illegal procedures in the shadows, in dirty “back alleys” with unsterilized instruments, no counseling, no sophisticated anesthesia, and no follow up exams. The result was hundreds and hundreds of women each year died on the operating tables or wound up in the emergency room of the local hospital with their “miscarriage.”
Incredibly, some women who could not find the abortionist wound up performing an abortion on themselves. The bloody coat hanger became a (harsh but real) symbol of the pro-choice movement because so many women used them to self-abort. Others concocted medical potions that they hoped would kill the fetus in utero.
There have been many books and movies about the world of illegal abortion. John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules” is a good one and the movie “If These Walls Could Talk” contained an excellent segment on a woman seeking an illegal abortion.
Ultimately, some more enlightened states like Colorado, California and New York passed laws legalizing abortion. Clinics were quickly opened and they were barraged with patients. Women from all over the world, yes, the world flew into those states to procure a legal (and safer) abortion. Clinic owners talk about sending out buses or limousines to the airport to transport the dozens of women who had flown in to get an abortion.
Then, everything changed on January 22nd. The Court said abortion was legal in all of the states with some caveats – and the floodgates opened up. Suddenly, all across the country doctors, feminists and others started opening up clinics. The rest is a long story, but the story is a celebration to women’s health. Today, abortion is one of the safest and most common surgical procedures performed on women.
- DIY Abortions on the Rise Among Low-Income Women (womensrights.change.org)
- Cuccinelli tries yet another anti-abortion approach (dailykos.com)
- SC’s Governor and VA’s Attorney General: For The Children (redstate.com)
- Virginia Uses Pretense of Public Health to Shut Down Abortion Providers (womensrights.change.org)
- Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli’s Ruling Makes Abortions Safer (politics.usnews.com)
- Alaska Restricts Abortion Rights With Parental Notification Law (womensrights.change.org)
- Nebraska’s controversial abortion law faces uphill battle (salon.com)
- “Mad Men” Gets Abortion Right (alternet.org)