Reproduced from Abortion is a Blessing by Anne Nicol Gaylor.
Types of Abortions
THERE ARE THREE TECHNIQUES commonly used for doing abortions, and the kind of abortion a woman has depends on how far advanced her pregnancy is and how skilled her doctor is. Some physicians who accept patients for early suction abortion do not do later abortions. In general, the sooner an abortion is done the safer and simpler it is.
Most abortions in the United States are done now by vacuum aspiration. This relatively new technique is used up to ten weeks of pregnancy. A local anesthetic (paracervical block) is injected around the cervix, which to some extent numbs the cervical and uterine area. If necessary, the cervix is enlarged by dilators (metal rods) although in very early abortion dilation is minimal. Next a small, flexible plastic tube about the size of a drinking straw is inserted through the cervix into the uterus-some doctors use a metal nonflexible tube. Then by means of gentle suction the contents of the uterus are removed through the tube into a collection bottle. The doctor then checks the uterine lining with a curette (a tiny instrument with a long handle and a spoonshaped end) to be sure that all tissue has been removed. This method, including giving the anesthetic, usually takes less than ten minutes. Most women experience some cramping during and after the procedure, similar to menstrual cramping, and this ranges from slight to severe. When the anesthetic is properly administered, most women can be kept fairly comfortable.
Women usually rest for an hour or so at a doctor's office or clinic before leaving, and are given things to eat and drink. It is advisable to rest the same day one has an abortion, but many women return to normal activity the next day.
There will be some bleeding for a few days following an abortion, and this may range from slight to heavy. Temperature should be taken daily as long as there is bleeding; many doctors routinely prescribe antibiotics to guard against infection. If someone has unusual cramping or clotting or heavy flow, she should stay in touch with her doctor, since this sometimes indicates that some tissue may have been retained in the uterus. In the event such tissue is not expelled, a follow-up D & C may be necessary.
It is a good idea not to have intercourse for two to three weeks after an abortion because of the risk of infection, and to shower, rather than bathe, as long as the bleeding continues.
The method of abortion used from ten to fourteen or fifteen weeks is dilation and curettage, in which the pregnancy and lining of the uterus are scraped away with a curette. This method requires more dilation than for vacuum aspiration, and has slightly more risk of perforation of the uterus. This technique can be used in a clinic or doctor's office up to three months, but it is generally done in a hospital after twelve or thirteen weeks.
Abortions beyond sixteen weeks of gestation are done by saline injection, or saltout. A long needle is inserted through a locally anesthetized area of the abdomen into the uterine cavity. Some of the amniotic fluid is withdrawn and replaced with an equal amount of a strong sterile salt solution. The salt solution causes contractions, and the fetus is expelled, usually within twenty-four hours. This method of abortion carries more risk than a D & C, and because it involves a two-day hospital stay, costs are high. Prostaglandins are being used instead of the saline injection in some hospitals.
Late abortions are done in some instances by hysterotomy, a miniature Caesarean section. Since this is major surgery requiring a general anesthetic, a relatively long convalescence, and leaves the woman with a sizeable abdominal scar, it is used only in those relatively rare situations where saline injections prove unsuccessful.
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A PIONEER IN THE ABORTION REFORM movement who made dilatories out of the rest of us, Patricia Theresa Maginnis of California, entertains herself and her public with her social commentary cartoons. Reprinted here are four that deal with abortion. Collectors may like to know that they are available as postals--write Pat Maginnis, Box 2 1, San Rafael, CA. 94901.
The first cartoon may need a little explanation for those unfamiliar with the abortion reform movement. To their great credit, a group of clergymen in New York City established the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies in the late 60's, counseling and referring women for abortions. The organization had clergy counselors in most of the major cities in the country by the early 70's, and their contribution to abortion rights in the United States was substantial. Two clergymen were arrested--one in Chicago and one in Cleveland--although the cases were later dropped. Others endured uneasy moments from police surveillance and phone taps.
Almost without exception the brochures and pamphlets of the early abortion reform movement, including those of the clergy, pictured a helpless woman with bent head and abject posture. Feminist Pat Maginnis turned those tables with a delightful cartoon.
This next cartoon of Pat's could have been drawn to order. The week I received it I had talked at length to a waitress asking for abortion referral who had seven living children, ages twelve, eight, seven, six, four, eighteen months and three months. She had had three earlier pregnancies that ended in stillbirth or miscarriage. She was tormented by varicose veins, had had a blood clot, and her last labor had lasted two and one-half days. Her exhaustion was apparent, but she brightened a little during our conversation. For the first time in her life she was going to control a pregnancy, it wasn't going to control her.
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A Bow to The Activists; Booby Prizes For The Obstructionists
FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS the Wisconsin Confederation of Zero Population Growth has held annual awards programs to salute state pioneers in the birth control and abortion reform movements, and to bestow negative awards on particularly unhelpful types.
The first awards conference was held in Oshkosh in 1971 and Paul Ehrlich presented two awards: a Humanitarian Award to Dr. Alfred Kennan for "his courage and compassion in founding the Midwest Medical Center," and a Family of the Year award to the Richard Franz family of New Berlin for their activities in a variety of population and environmental causes and their two-child family.
Subsequent expanded programs were held in Madison.
Those honored in 1972:
- Hania W. Ris, M.D.
- Edith Rein
- Lawrence Giese
- Gene Boyer
Family of the Year
- Appleton Post Crescent
- Nancy Heinberg, Capital Times
- James and Caroline Greenwald and daughters Elaine and Geraldine
Those honored in 1973:
- Rep. Lloyd Barbee
- Christine Correra
- Emily West
- Peteranne Joel
Family of the Year
- Whitney Gould, Capital Times
- Ron Carbon, WMFM
- Robert and Nancy Staigmiller and sons
Those honored in 1974:
- Herbert Sandmire, M.D.
Family of the Year
- Rev. Elinor Yeo
- Beatrice Kabler
- Joan Allan
- Jeff and Jill Dean
The Milwaukee Journal was chosen for a negative award in 1972 for its refusal to accept an ad for the ZPG Referral Service. It also was cited for its refusal to desexigrate its help-wanted ads, and for having a low number of women editorial employees. The Journal finally did drop the malefemale distinctions in its help wanted ads, and reportedly has improved its percentage of female employees. However, in 1975 the Journal will not allow the words "abortion referral" in its advertising columns. It has editorialized that it is deplorable that some women still find their way to ghetto abortionists, but it will not consent to do the obviously helpful thing, and list non-commercial services that will give free information on where to go for safe, legal abortions. The only exception has been for the advertiser's willingness to use a euphemism such as "crisis pregnancy" or "problem pregnancy"; no reference may be made to abortion.
The Journal did not send a representative for its award, so I delivered it to their Madison bureau. Charley Friederich was on hand to accept the "Male Chauvinist Pig" Award.
A Wisconsin legislator from Darlington was selected for the booby prize in 1973. Gordon Roseleip, a flag-waver who likes women "in their place", was an adamant opponent not only of legal abortion but of any change in Wisconsin's anticontraceptive law. He uttered many memorable remarks during his years at the State Capitol including the award-winning pronouncement memorialized in the poster below. State Senator Roseleip was defeated for reelection in November, 1974, by a feminist, Kathryn Morrison, the first woman ever to serve in the Wisconsin State Senate.
The senior U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, William Proxmire, announced his intention in December, 1973, of supporting an amendment to overthrow the U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion, an action that brought him ZPG's negative award for 1974, a "Keep-em-Barefoot-and-Pregnant" poster.
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What You Can DoHERE ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS for activities.
Join the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), 250 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019. NARAL is the major national group working to protect and extend women's legal right to choose abortion. Besides its New York office, NARAL has a lobbying office in Washington D.C. and is one of the organizers of the International Association for the Right to Abortion, the first international abortion rights group formed at Bucharest in 1974.
NARAL members receive regular mailings which alert them to legislative happenings and court developments. Brochures, mounted photographs, and slides are available as aids to speakers. NARAL holds annual meetings in Washington D.C. and regional meetings around the country during the year. NARAL will put you in touch with groups and individual members in your state.
Support other organizations working to protect the Supreme Court abortion decision. Some of these are:
Zero Population Growth
1346 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington D.C. 20036
National Organization for Women
1957 East 73rd St
Chicago, IL 60649
Women's Political Caucus
1921 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington D.C. 20006
Association for the Study of Abortion
120 West 57th St
New York, NY 10019
(a tax-exempt source for information and reprints)
1345 "G" St SE
Washington D.C. 20003
If you live in an area where abortion and sterilization are not available, make a fuss! Complain to doctors, hospitals, and your county and state medical societies. Check your state's maternal death figures for the past few years. In every state women have died because safe abortions were not available to them to end unwanted pregnancies, or sterilizations to avoid them. Publicize this information.
Arrange proabortion presentations in your area. Every little boondock in the country has been saturated with antiabortion propaganda. Conduct your own educational campaign with the help of the following movies or others:
"Women Who've Lived Through Illegal Abortions"
c/o Planned Parenthood
810 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10019
c/o Berkeley Bio-Engineering
1215 4th St
Berkeley, CA 94710
In "Women Who've Lived Through Illegal Abortions" six women of different backgrounds and ages recount their experiences in coping with illegal abortions. Black and white, fifteen minutes long, this is an excellent movie around which to build a discussion. "Aspiration Abortion" is a twelve-minute medical film demonstrating the technique of suction abortion. A California gynecologist, Sadia Goldsmith, interviews a young woman patient and performs the abortion. The films are especially effective used together, since the horror stories of the "Women Who've Lived Through Illegal Abortions" contrast so sharply with the safe simplicity of the legal abortion, done for a composed patient in antiseptic surroundings with supportive people.
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Finding An Abortion
ALTHOUGH ABORTIONS ARE LEGAL throughout the United States, their availability varies markedly from state to state. A woman seeking an abortion in Los Angeles or New York will have a variety of facilities to choose from, while the woman who lives in North Dakota or Louisiana may have no place within her state to go at all.
It is legal for any physician to perform an abortion, but problems arise in that very few American physicians have been trained to do abortions. Not only may a woman's gynecologist be unwilling to do an abortion, he may be inexperienced, and not a good person to turn to because he is unskilled. The suction method of abortion used during the first ten weeks of gestation is the safest, simplest method of abortion, but few specialists own the equipment or are experienced in using it. All gynecologists regularly do a dilatation and curettage (D & C) for diagnostic reasons, a method that is traditional for early abortion, but the procedure becomes trickier with a pregnant uterus, requiring more skill because of the increased risk of perforation.
Women who have no sources of referral within their own communities can phone the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic; most Planned Parenthood affiliates are reliable sources of information on where to go for abortions. Almost every college campus has a volunteer referral service, staffed by feminists, or at least a "hot-line". These can be found through listings in college newspapers or by phoning the student activities bureau. Chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW) will have information, as do most Zero Population Growth (ZPG) chapters. Clergy Consultation Services on Problem Pregnancies have phone listings in some major cities.
If you have insurance, be sure to check it for possible coverage of abortion costs. Many policies have been expanded to cover abortion since its legality became totally clear. Women on welfare can use their medical cards for abortion care in many states. Costs for an early abortion vary, but if you pay more than $200 for a first trimester abortion, you are being taken. The going rate in New York City for an early clinic abortion is $125. On the west coast, charges average out in the $100 to $125 range. Chicago clinics charge about $150. A D & C done in a hospital will cost from $250 to $350, and a late saline abortion, with its average two days of hospitalization, costs anywhere from $350 in New York to $900 or $1,000 at some rip-off Midwest hospitals.
Confirmation of a pregnancy can be done by a simple urine test, if a woman is forty-two days from the first day of her last normal menstrual period. Most abortion referral sources will have information on where to go for inexpensive pregnancy tests.
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The Tragedy of Tay-Sachs Disease
THE PROBLEM OF THE WOMAN who fears she may be carrying a fetus that has a genetic disorder has been touched on only fleetingly in this book. Kay Jacobs Katz, the mother of a child who had Tay-Sachs disease, testified before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of the Senate Committee on the judiciary, on June 4, 1974. This committee, headed by Senator Birch Bayh, presently is considering the various antiabortion amendments proposed in Congress designed to write a ban on abortions into the U.S. Constitution. Excerpts from Ms. Katz's eloquent testimony follow.
My name is Kay Jacobs Katz of Silver Spring, Maryland, and I am the mother of a child who had Tay- Sachs disease. I appear here today to express my personal beliefs and to represent the National Capital Tay-Sachs Foundation, an organization committed to public education, cure research, health care and prevention of Tay-Sachs disease and its allied disorders. These genetic diseases, known as sphingolipidoses or lipid storage diseases, are characterized by inborn errors of lipid metabolism. In each disease, an enzyme necessary for normal human function--hexosaminidase-A--is either deficient or inactive, resulting in neurological deterioration and early death. It is estimated that one in every thirty American Jews of Eastern European ancestry is a carrier of this trait. A carrier is totally unaffected by the disease, but a blood test can determine that the amount of activity of "hex-A" is somewhat less than that of most individuals. Statistically, one in every 900 Jewish marriages is between two carriers, who are therefore capable of producing a child with Tay-Sachs disease. One child in every 3600 births to Jewish couples will be afflicted with Tay-Sachs disease, and every child born with this disease will die by the age of four....
There are a great many people who wish to deny potential parents of infants with fatal genetic disorders the option to terminate affected pregnancies. However, once a doomed baby is born, these same people who insist on his birth disappear, leaving total responsibility to his parents. Besides the heartbreak, mental anguish, and, quite frankly, physical burden that the parents must endure, there is the problem of finding people willing or qualified to help in caring for such a child.
In most cases the families seek out institutionalization at some point, because of increasing medical problems or simply overwhelming demands on the parents' time. Most retardation centers are inappropriate, and hospital-care costs are prohibitive. Most insurance companies refuse to cover prolonged hospital care on the basis that it is custodial care-even though the medical profession disagrees. Even those insurance companies that do cover a prolonged hospital stay will not cover the cost of a nurse at home, which for many families would be a much more acceptable form of help....
It all started for us four and a half years ago when we had our first baby. She was beautiful and, we were assured, healthy and normal. She grew and developed very normally for several months--or so we were told. There were a few little problems, such as a pronounced startle response which she never outgrew, but the doctor reassured us that she was normal. By ten months of age she had begun to grow weak and to lose some of the skills she had learned, and once again I pleaded with the pediatrician to tell me what was wrong. Again, as before, I was put off. Finally, a couple of weeks prior to her first birthday, he admitted that her development was not progressing normally, and we were referred to a specialist at Children's Hospital here in Washington. We brought Joann home the day before her first birthday, with the knowledge that she had Tay-Sachs disease, that the birthday cake placed in front of her the next day would be the only one she would ever see, and that she would no doubt be dead before her fourth birthday.
We made every effort possible, for Joann's sake, to continue to provide a normal environment for her. As she continued to lose skills and awareness, we adapted our life style and care of her to her needs. I took her for physical therapy and learned the exercise program myself, so I could prevent stiffness from taking over her body, as she moved about in her crib less and less.
Although we made a valiant attempt to believe that a cure would come along in time to save her life and restore some of her intelligence, each passing week took more and more away from her. So as not to dwell on her deterioration, I will summarize by stating that by the time she died on May 28, 1973, she was a blind invalid, seizuring and drowning in her own secretions, requiring daily enemas, nasogastric feeding (fed a liquid diet via a tube plunged down the nose into the stomach), and spending more time in oxygen and on antibiotics than not. These were the very real events we had to stand by and helplessly witness, and when you love someone the way we loved Joann, you would do anything to reverse the insidious process that was taking her away from you, and short of that, anything to prevent its recurrence.
When Joann was diagnosed, we learned that Tay-Sachs disease is an incurable degenerative disease of the nervous system, uniformly fatal by the fifth year of life; beyond all that it is hereditary. Not only was it going to kill my daughter, it would mean that if I were to conceive again, there would be a 25 percent chance of any fetus being affected with the disorder.
We learned that in the case of this particular genetic disease, and a growing number of others, prenatal diagnosis was now possible, and that if the fetus in question were affected, safe, legal termination of the pregnancy was also possible. We had a big decision to make because we desperately wanted more children of our own. After several months of soulsearching, we decided to go ahead and plan a second pregnancy. I refused to become pregnant, in other words, until I was convinced that there was no hope for Joann, and that I would have the courage to undergo an abortion rather than produce another Tay- Sachs baby. Besides her own short, hopeless life, there remained the fact that we had established a love relationship with Joann before her illness became apparent. With a subsequent baby we would know from the day of his birth of the possibility of his impending death, and could never have given him the same loving kind of care we gave Joann, and feel we owe our children. At some point the instinct of self- preservation forces one to protect oneself from pain.
Therefore, when I did become pregnant, I was referred to a physician specializing in genetic counseling who saw Joann and discussed her with me, and who later met with my husband and me to explore our attitudes and feelings, and to make sure we had all the pertinent information we needed. He assured us that he himself would be performing the prenatal test known as amniocentesis; the necessary cell cultures would be grown in his laboratory and sent for analysis to the National Institute of Health. If the results were unfortunate, he would perform the abortion himself and stay with me afterwards, to be supportive and help in any way possible; for he knew how hard it would be for us, but also understood why and how we had made such a decision.
All this information is really background material to help you understand why we feel so strongly that by depriving couples like us of the option of having children unaffected by such serious and hopeless disorders, you are really depriving us of having children at all. Most of us would simply not be foolhardy enough to knowingly risk a pregnancy without this alternative. We now have a healthy, normal two-year-old son, and we expect another baby free of Tay-Sachs in July. If an anti-abortion amendment is passed and ratified, I will be one of the lucky few who had the freedom to have such a family in the few short years while the medical and scientific capability was available and legal....
Tay-Sachs is only one of a number of related disorders; it is also the most common. For parents of children suffering with some of the related diseases, there is as yet no prenatal diagnosis, and these couples are anxious for medical research to find the means to make it available, so they too may have children with a fair chance for survival. However, because of the cutbacks in funding for medical research in this area on one hand, and the threat of an antiabortion amendment on the other, these couples would have to give up hope of having more children....
I know that the subject of Tay-Sachs disease has come up previously before this subcommittee, and that the suggestion has been made that two known carriers simply not marry each other. This idea rings of the same simplistic reasoning that I have heard again and again in antiabortion thinking. This is not the beginning of time; marriages between carriers already exist. My husband and I are an example of this. Would it suit society's needs better if we dissolve our marriage, to avoid having children together? Not only is the argument simplistic, it is fallacious. A couple who decides against marriage because they share one of 2,000 currently identifiable lethal genes might separately marry someone else with whom they share the potential for some other genetic disease in their offspring, as it is a well-established medical fact that each of us carries between five and ten such traits. Simplistic, fallacious, and even unreasonable is this idea, because the law would then be denying individuals a very basic human right in our society-the right to marry the person of one's choice. And so once again we confront the conflict of exactly whose rights are to be protected, those of the fetus or those of the couple who conceived it.
Were safe, legal abortions unavailable, we would be caught in a vacuum offering few alternatives. We do not believe that abortion is a "cure-all," or a matter to be taken lightly. We realize only too well the seriousness of the situation and we dislike the reality that termination of pregnancy, and late in the second trimester at that, is the only means we have of achieving normal families. We would much prefer a cure, and for this reason my husband and I, with the support of family and friends, have established a small research foundation in our daughter's name, to keep cure research alive. However until successful therapy is possible, we will continue to fight for the right of couples to terminate pregnancies that would otherwise bring them heartbreak.
It would seem also that banning legal abortion would force us to undergo sterilization operations, because no means of contraception is totally effective for everyone, and we wish to avoid having doomed children. If we are faithfully practicing birth control, and our method fails us, we are then forced to bring a child into the world whose life and death will break our hearts, or forced as in earlier days to become criminals in the eyes of the law and seek abortion where we can find it.
I have great respect for the United States Senate, but I do not believe that its members are more qualified than I to decide on the question of abortion. I believe that it is such a personal, complicated, and difficult decision for everyone who approaches it, that no legislation concerning it could really satisfy all its aspects. Difficult though the decision may be, I have the right to make that decision for myself and I want that right preserved. I refuse to sit idly by and watch pressure groups exert their influence on my government to erode my rights as an American citizen, and I implore you and your colleagues to reject these efforts in favor of the individual freedom upon which our society is based....
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Extracts From The Supreme Court Decision on Abortion January 22, 1973
From the Texas decision (Roe v. Wade):
1. A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.
(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
2. The State may define the term "physician," as it has been employed in the preceding numbered paragraphs of this Part XI of this opinion, to mean only a physician currently licensed by the State, and may proscribe any abortion by a person who is not a physician as so defined....
This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and example of medical and legal history, with the lenity of the common law, and with the demands of the profound problems of the present day. The decision leaves the State free to place increasing restrictions on abortion as the period of pregnancy lengthens, so long as those restrictions are tailored to the recognized state interests. The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the points where important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention. Up to those points the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician. If an individual practitioner abuses the privilege of exercising proper medical judgment, the usual remedies, judicial and intraprofessional, are available.
From the Georgia decision (Doe v. Bolton):
4. The three procedural conditions ... violate the Fourteenth Amendment.
(a) The JCAH accreditation requirement is invalid, since the State has not shown that only hospitals (let alone those with JCAH accreditation) meet its interest in fully protecting the patient; and a hospital requirement failing to exclude the first trimester of pregnancy would be invalid on that ground alone....
(b) The interposition of a hospital committee on abortion, a procedure not applicable as a matter of state criminal law to other surgical situations, is unduly restrictive of the patient's rights, which are already safeguarded by her personal physician....
(c) Required acquiescence by two copractitioners also has no rational connection with a patient's needs and unduly infringes on her physician's right to practice....
5. The Georgia residence requirement violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause by denying protection to persons who enter Georgia for medical services there....
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Abortion Around the World
THE ABORTION REVOLUTION is spreading around the world and many countries recently have modified age-old restrictive laws. Here is a partial summary of the status of abortion in various countries as of early 1975.
Many American women flew to London for abortions prior to the legalization of abortion in New York. It has been a haven also for women from the religion-dominated countries on the European continent.
Great Britain first legalized abortion through a 1967 Act of Parliament, which permits abortion if continuation of the pregnancy involves a risk greater to the woman's physical or mental health than termination of the pregnancy. Two doctors are required to approve the procedure which can be done for the first twenty-eight weeks of pregnancy.
The first liberalization of Sweden's law occurred in 1938, but the law remained restrictive, gradually being amended and broadened, but still involving immense amounts of red tape. In January, 1975, most of the bureaucratic hurdles were abolished, and women now may have abortion on request through the twelfth week of pregnancy. There are special formalities still required for second trimester abortions.
Although stormy discussions about abortion are continuing in France, the French National Assembly, after a prolonged televised debate, voted on Nov. 29, 1974, to legalize abortion on request at set prices during the first ten weeks of pregnancy. The new law went into effect on Jan. 18, 1975. It is regarded as a stunning triumph for feminists in this heavily Roman Catholic country.
In February, 1975, Italy's constitutional court decreed that a woman's right to health and sanity took precedence over an embryo, which the court described as "not yet a person." Several proposals for abortion reform have been submitted to the Italian Parliament, with the issue still being debated in early 1975. Estimates of the numbers of illegal abortions in Italy have varied from the Ministry of Health's 800,000 to the three million estimate of a 1968 convention of Italian gynecologists. The World Health Organization estimates 1. 5 million annually. (New York Tintes, March 23, 1975. pp 1, 53.)
The West German parliament passed a law permitting abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy in June, 1974. The law did not go into effect, awaiting a Supreme Court ruling which was handed down in February, 1975. The Court ruled that the law violated a constitutional principle that "everyone shall have the right to life and inviolability of person."
The verdict angered many Germans. Almost 60 per cent of them, in national polls, had expressed themselves desirous of a change in the restrictive law, and the negative court decision triggered large demonstrations in most German cities.
SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
Abortion remains illegal in both of these impoverished nations. Attacks on abortion are common in the press and on television, which is state-owned. Feminists are a rare breed, and the reaction in these countries to the liberalization of the abortion law in France was one of shock.
For decades Switzerland has had the reputation of being the place to go in Europe for well-to-do women who could afford illegal abortions at luxurious clinics catering to the rich.
Swiss women themselves never were so lucky, and a country that only very recently gave women the vote still is debating her right to an abortion. In March, 1975, the lower house of the Swiss Parliament narrowly defeated a government bill that would have legalized abortions for other than grave medical reasons.
EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
In most of these socialist countries abortion has been legal and free since shortly after World War II. Laws have become more restrictive in a particular country when male leadership is in the throes of a population expansion drive. The concept of abortion as a woman's right, resting with her and not with the state, is not grasped too well around the world, even in those countries that have experienced decades of abortion legality.
Abortion was legalized in Russia in 1920, but under Stalin it was prohibited again, except for grave medical necessity. In 1955 a woman's right to abortion was reestablished through her first trimester of pregnancy. Russian women may get time off from employment for abortions, and be paid for the abortion if they obtain a medical certificate to present to their employers. In Moscow alone there are an estimated 200,000 abortions per year, about twice the number of births.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
Abortion remains totally illegal in almost all of South and Central America, although illegal abortions are commonplace. These are performed by midwives or witch doctors in shantytown huts or country shacks. The wealthy may be accommodated in clinics or private hospitals. In San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador in Central America, one admittance in every five at the maternity hospital is for a woman who is having complications from backstreet abortion, a typical situation throughout Latin America.
Abortion is permitted legally in Argentina in those cases where a woman's health is jeopardized seriously, or a fetus is known to be retarded or deformed. Since the Peronist government in Argentina is desirous of doubling the country's population by the end of the century, there seems little likelihood of further liberalization of its law. In fact, a decree has been issued restricting the sale of oral contraceptives and, in general, discouraging all methods of birth control.
Probably the weirdest liberalized abortion law in the world is that of Uraguay. The law, notable for its doubletalk and its view of woman as a chattel, reads in part:
(1) if the offence [meaning an abortion] was performed to safeguard the honour of the woman or that of her spouse or a close relative, the penalty is reduced by one-third to one-half; the judge may totally exempt the parties concerned from punishment in the case of abortion performed with consent, after an examination of the circumstances of the case; (2) if the abortion is performed without the consent of the woman in order to terminate a pregnancy resulting from rape, the penalty is reduced by one-third to one-half, no penalty being imposed if the operation is carried out with the woman's consent .... (World Health Organization, Abortion Laws: A Survey of Current World Legislation, Geneva, WHO, 1971, p. 26.)
Serious danger to health and serious economic difficulty also are recognized by Uraguay's abortion law, with or without the woman's consent!
Abortion has been legal for twenty-seven years in Japan, and a woman may obtain one through the seventh month of pregnancy.
Since Japan had no tradition of contraceptive use, and its feudal family system meant inequality for women, the permission for abortion was not granted with women's rights in mind, but strictly as an economic measure. At the end of World War II destitute Japan was a nation of seventy-two million persons. In the four years following the war it added eleven million more. Struggling for economic survival, the Japanese knew they must do something to control a population fast outgrowing area and resources, and they first liberalized abortion in the late 40's and, after a couple of years' experience, extended the law to accommodate abortion on request. Within ten years from the first liberalized law, their birthrate was cut in half.
Contraception has become more available in Japan since the advent of abortion. In the 1920's birth control crusader Margaret Sanger had been denied entry to Japan, and twenty-five years later General Douglas MacArthur again refused her request to enter. Tokyo's largest paper reported, "In view of the pressure of the Catholic Church groups, it was believed impossible for General MacArthur to allow her to lecture to Japanese audiences without appearing to subscribe to her views." (Emily Taft Douglas, Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970. p. 247) At that time in Japan there was a Catholic population of 130,000, in a country of over eighty million people.
Abortion and birth control both are available to Chinese women, as a health service without charge. In India, a law passed in 1971 gave Indian women the right to obtain hospital abortions. Unhappily, hospital facilities are available only in the cities and 80 per cent of Indian women live in villages. In the Middle East abortion remains strictly illegal, even in Lebanon, the most sophisticated of these countries, where no abortions are performed even to save a woman's life.
Early in 1975 the all-white South African parliament passed a bill providing that a woman may have an abortion only after obtaining certificates of necessity from three doctors. In a special racist touch, the bill stipulated that a pregnancy may be ended if it is the result of sexual intercourse between a white and nonwhite, an act forbidden by law in South Africa. In most of Africa abortion is seldom mentioned and remains illegal, although in major cities it is available for those who can afford the fees.
Abortions have been allowed in Canada since 1969 when necessary to preserve the life and health of a woman. A committee of three or more physicians must agree to the necessity, and the procedure must be done in a properly accredited hospital.
In 1973 Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who worked in a poor neighborhood of Montreal, was arrested after having performed some 2,000 abortions in a clinic setting, pioneering the suction method in Canada. He was acquitted by a jury, but this decision was overthrown by the Quebec Supreme Court. Early in 1975 the Canadian Supreme Court by a 6-3 decision upheld the Quebec court. Dr. Morgentaler was sent to prison to serve an eighteen month sentence in Montreal.
Although Canadian law allows abortions for life and health reasons, only some 250 of Canada's 1,000 hospitals have abortion review committees. Much of Canada is without any facility a woman can apply to for abortion care, even to save her life.
Therapeutic abortions approved by committee are covered by Canada's National Health Insurance, and such abortions continue to be quite readily available through the hospital committee route in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Again, women with contacts and money to travel may get abortions: others may not.
Dr. Morgentaler's case is believed to be the only case in Canadian legal history where a jury acquittal was overthrown by the Canadian Supreme Court. Canadians working for women's freedom to choose abortion now have no recourse through their courts. Their goal is to convince their national Parliament to remove abortion from the criminal code.
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