By Dan Barker
The Christian God is defined as a personal being who knows everything. According to Christians, personal beings have free will.
In order to have free will, you must have more than one option, each of which is avoidable. This means that before you make a choice, there must be a state of uncertainty during a period of potential: you cannot know the future. Even if you think you can predict your decision, if you claim to have free will, you must admit the potential (if not the desire) to change your mind before the decision is final.
A being who knows everything can have no "state of uncertainty." It knows its choices in advance. This means that it has no potential to avoid its choices, and therefore lacks free will. Since a being that lacks free will is not a personal being, a personal being who knows everything cannot exist.
Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.
Some people deny that humans have free will; but all Christians claim that God himself, "in three persons," is a free personal agent, so the argument holds.
Others will object that God, being all-powerful, can change his mind. But if he does, then he did not know the future in the first place. If he truly knows the future, then the future is fixed and not even God can change it. If he changes his mind anyway, then his knowledge was limited. You can't have it both ways: no being can be omniscient and omnipotent at the same time.
A more subtle objection is that God "knows" what he is going to do because he always acts in accordance with his nature, which does not diminish his free agency. God might claim, for example, that he will not tell a lie tomorrow--because he always tells the truth. God could choose outside of his nature, but he never does.
But what does "nature of God" mean? To have a nature is to have limits. The "nature" that restricts humans is our physical environment and our genetics; but the "nature" of a supernatural being must be something else. It is inappropriate to say that the "nature" of a being without limits bears the same relationship to the topic of free will that human nature does.
Free will requires having more than one option, a desire to choose, freedom to choose (lack of obstacles), power to accomplish the choice (strength and aptitude), and the potential to avoid the option. "Strength and aptitude" puts a limit on what any person is "free" to do. No human has the free will to run a one-minute mile, without mechanical aid. We are free to try, but we will fail. All of our choices, and our desires as well, are limited by our nature; yet we can still claim free will (those of us who do) because we don't know our future choices.
If God always acts in accordance with his nature (whatever that means), then he still must have more than one viable option that does not contradict his nature if he is to claim free will. Otherwise, he is a slave to his nature, like a robot, and not a free personal agent.
What would the word "option" mean to a being who created all options?
Some say that "free will" with God does not mean what it means with humans. But how are we to understand this? What conditions of free will would a Christian scrap in order to craft a "free agency" for God? Multiple options? Desire? Freedom? Power? Potential to avoid?
Perhaps desire could be jettisoned. Desire implies a lack, and a perfect being should lack nothing. But it would be a very strange "person" with no needs or desires. Desire is what prompts a choice in the first place. It also contributes to assessing whether the decision was reasonable. Without desire, choices are willy-nilly, and not true decisions at all. Besides, the biblical god expressed many desires.
No objection saves the Christian God: he does not exist. Perhaps a more modest deity can be imagined: one that is not both personal and all-knowing, both all-knowing and all-powerful, both perfect and free. But until a god is defined coherently, and then proven to exist with evidence and sound reasoning, it is sensible not to think that such a being exists.
Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist - Chapter 19
By Dan Barker
I have a few questions, and I thought you would be the right person to ask. It gets tough sometimes, sitting up here in heaven with no one to talk to. I mean really talk to. I can always converse with the angels, of course, but since they don't have free will, and since I created every thought in their submissive minds, they are not very stimulating conversationalists.
Of course, I can talk with my son Jesus and with the "third person" of our holy trinity, the Holy Spirit, but since we are all the same, there is nothing we can learn from each other. There are no well-placed repartees in the Godhead. We all know what the others know. We can't exactly play chess. Jesus sometimes calls me "Father," and that feels good, but since he and I are the same age and have the same powers, it doesn't mean much.
You are educated. You have examined philosophy and world religions, and you have a degree which makes you qualified to carry on a discussion with someone at my level--not that I can't talk with anyone, even with the uneducated believers who fill the churches and flatter me with endless petitions, but you know how it is. Sometimes we all crave interaction with a respected colleague. You have read the scholars. You have written papers and published books about me, and you know me better than anyone else.
It might surprise you to think that I have some questions. No, not rhetorical questions aimed at teaching spiritual lessons, but some real, honest-to-God inquiries. This should not shock you because, after all, I created you in my image. Your inquisitiveness is an inheritance from me. You would say that love, for example, is a reflection of my nature within yourself, wouldn't you? Since questioning is healthy, it also comes from me.
Somebody once said that we should prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. My first question is this:
Where did I come from?
I find myself sitting up here in heaven, and I look around and notice that there is nothing else besides myself and the objects that I have created. I don't see any other creatures competing with me, nor do I notice anything above myself that might have created me, unless it is playing hide-and-seek. In any event, as far as I know (and I supposedly know everything), there is nothing else but me in-three-persons and my creations. I have always existed, you say. I did not create myself, because if I did, then I would be greater than myself.
So where did I come from?
I know how you approach that question regarding your own existence. You notice that nature, especially the human mind, displays evidence of intricate design. You have never observed such design apart from a designer. You argue that human beings must have had a creator, and you will find no disagreement from me.
Then, what about me? Like you, I observe that my mind is complex and intricate. It is much more complex than your mind, otherwise I couldn't have created your mind. My personality displays evidence of organization and purpose. Sometimes I surprise myself at how wise I am. If you think your existence is evidence of a designer, then what do you think about my existence? Am I not wonderful? Do I not function in an orderly manner? My mind is not a random jumble of disconnected thoughts; it displays what you would call evidence of design. If you need a designer, then why don't I?
You might think such a question is blasphemy, but to me there is no such crime. I can ask any question I want, and I think this is a fair one. If you say that everything needs a designer and then say that not everything (Me) needs a designer, aren't you contradicting yourself? By excluding me from the argument, aren't you bringing your conclusion into your argument? Isn't that circular reasoning? I am not saying I disagree with your conclusion; how could I? I'm just wondering why it is proper for you to infer a designer while it is not proper for me.
If you are saying that I don't need to ask where I came from because I am perfect and omniscient while humans are fallible, then you don't need the design argument at all, do you? You have already assumed that I exist. You can make such an assumption, of course, and I would not deny you the freedom. Such a priori and circular reasoning might be helpful or comforting to you, but it does me little good. It doesn't help me figure out where I came from.
You say that I am eternally existent, and I suppose I would have no objection if I knew what it meant. It is hard for me to conceive of eternal existence. I just can't remember back that far. It would take me an eternity to remember back to eternity, leaving me no time to do anything else, so it is impossible for me to confirm if I existed forever. And even if it is true, why is eternal greater than temporal? Is a long sermon greater than a short sermon? What does "greater" mean? Are fat people greater than thin people, or old greater than young?
You think it is important that I have always existed. I'll take your word for it, for now. My question is not with the duration of my existence, but with the origin of my existence. I don't see how being eternal solves the problem. I still want to know where I came from.
I can only imagine one possible answer, and I would appreciate your reaction. I know that I exist. I know that I could not have created myself. I also know that there is no higher God who could have created me. Since I can't look above myself, then perhaps I should look below myself for a creator. Perhaps--this is speculative, so bear with me--perhaps you created me.
Don't be shocked. I mean to flatter you. Since I contain evidence of design, and since I see no other place where such design could originate, I am forced to look for a designer, or designers, in nature itself. You are a part of nature. You are intelligent--that is what your readers say. Why should I not find the answer to my question in you? Help me out on this.
Of course, if you made me, then I could not have made you, I think. The reason that I think I made you is because you made me to think I made you. You have often said that a Creator can put thoughts in your mind. Isn't it possible that you have put thoughts in my mind, and now here we are, both of us, wondering where we each came from?
Some of you have said that the answer to this whole question is just a mystery that only God understands. Well, thanks a lot. The buck stops here. On the one hand you use logic to try to prove my existence, but on the other hand, when logic hits a dead end, you abandon it and invoke "faith" and "mystery." Those words might be useful to you as place-holders for facts or truth, but they don't translate to anything meaningful as far as I am concerned. You can pretend that "mystery" signifies something terribly important, but to me it simply means you don't know.
Some of you assert that I did not "come" from anywhere. I just exist. However, I have also heard you say that nothing comes from nothing. You can't have it both ways. I either exist or I don't. What was it that caused me to exist, as opposed to not existing at all? If I don't need a cause, then why do you? Since I am not happy to say that this is a mystery, I must accept the only explanation that makes sense. You created me.
Is that such a terrible idea? I know that you think many other gods were created by humans: Zeus, Thor, Mercury, Elvis. You recognize that such deities originate in human desire, need, or fear. If the blessed beliefs of those billions of individuals can be dismissed as products of culture, then why can't yours? The Persians created Mithra, the Jews created Yahweh, and you created me. If I am wrong about this, please straighten me out.
My second question is this:
What's it all about?
Maybe I made myself, maybe some other god made me, maybe you made me--let's put that aside for now. I'm here now. Why am I here? Many of you look up to me for purpose in life, and I have often stated that your purpose in life is to please me. (Read Revelation 4:11) If your purpose is to please me, what is my purpose? To please myself? Is that all there is to life?
If I exist for my own pleasure, then this is selfish. It makes it look as if I created you merely to have some living toys to play with. Isn't there some principle that I can look up to? Something to admire, adore, and worship? Am I consigned for eternity to sit here and amuse myself with the worship of others? Or to worship myself? What's the point?
I have read your writings on the meaning of life, and don't misunderstand me, they make sense in the theological context of human religious goals, even if they don't have much practicality in the real world. Many of you feel that your purpose in life is to achieve perfection. Since you humans fall way short of perfection, by your own admission (and I agree), then self improvement provides you with a quest. It gives you something to do. Someday you hope to be as perfect as you think I am. But since I am already perfect, by definition, then I don't need such a purpose. I'm just sort of hanging out, I guess.
Yet I still wonder why I'm here. It feels good to exist. It feels great to be perfect. But it gives me nothing to do. I created the universe with all kinds of natural laws that govern everything from quarks to galactic clusters, and it runs okay on its own. I had to make these laws, otherwise I would be involved with a lot of repetitive busy work, such as pulling light rays through space, yanking falling objects down to the earth, sticking atoms together to build molecules, and a trillion other boring tasks more worthy of a slave than a master. You have discovered most of those laws, and might be on the verge of putting the whole picture together, and once you have done that you will know what I know: that there is nothing in the universe for me to do. It's boring up here.
I could create more universes and more laws, but what's the point? I've already done universes. Creation is like sneezing or writing short stories; it just comes out of me. I could go on an orgy of creation. Create, create, create. After a while a person can get sick of the same thing, like when you eat a whole box of chocolates and discover that the last piece doesn't taste as good as the first. Once you have had ten children, do you need twenty? (I'm asking you, not the pope.) If more is better, then I am obligated to continue until I have fathered an infinite number of children, and an endless number of universes. If I must compel myself, then I am a slave.
Many of you assert that it is inappropriate to seek purpose within yourself, that it must come from outside. I feel the same way. I can't merely assign purpose to myself. If I did, then I would have to look for my reasons. I would have to come up with an account of why I chose one purpose over another, and if such reasons came from within myself I would be caught in a loop of self-justified rationalizations. Since I have no Higher Power of my own, then I have no purpose. Nothing to live for. It is all meaningless.
Sure, I can bestow meaning on you--pleasing me, achieving perfection, whatever--and perhaps that is all that concerns you; but doesn't it bother you, just a little, that the source of meaning for your life has no source of its own? And if this is true, then isn't it also true that ultimately you have no meaning for yourself either? If it makes you happy to demand an external reference point on which to hang your meaningfulness, why would you deny the same to me? I also want to be happy, and I want to find that happiness in something other than myself. Is that a sin?
On the other hand, if you think I have the right and the freedom to find happiness in myself and in the things I created, then why should you not have the same right? You, whom I created in my image?
I know that some of you have proposed a solution to this problem. You call it "love." You think I am lonely up here, and that I created humans to satisfy my longing for a relationship with something that is not myself. Of course, this will never work because it is impossible for me to create something that is not part of myself, but let's say that I try anyway. Let's say that I create this mechanism called "free will," which imparts to humans a choice. If I give you the freedom (though this is stretching the word because there is nothing outside of my power) not to love me, then if some of you, a few of you, even one of you chooses to love me, I have gained something I might not have had. I have gained a relationship with someone who could have chosen otherwise. This is called love, you say.
This is a great idea, on paper. In real life, however, it turns out that millions, billions of people have chosen not to love me, and that I have to do something with these infidels. I can't just un-create them. If I simply destroy all the unbelievers, I may as well have created only believers in the first place. Since I am omniscient, I would know in advance which of my creations would have a tendency to choose me, and this would produce no conflict with free will since those who would not have chosen me would have been eliminated simply by not having been created in the first place. (I could call it Supernatural Selection.) This seems much more compassionate than hell.
You can't have a love relationship with someone who is not your equal. If you humans don't have a guaranteed eternal soul, like myself, then you are worthless as companions. If I can't respect your right to exist independently, and your right to choose something other than me, then I couldn't love those of you who do choose me. I would have to find a place for all those billions of eternal souls who reject me, whatever their reasons might be. Let's call it "hell," a place that is not-God, not-me. I would have to create this inferno, otherwise neither I nor the unbelievers could escape each other. Let's ignore the technicalities of how I could manage to create hell, and then separate it from myself, apart from whom nothing else exists. (It's not as though I could create something and then simply throw it away--there is no cosmic trash heap.) The point is that since I am supposedly perfect, this place of exile must be something that is the opposite. It must be ultimate evil, pain, darkness, and torment.
If I created hell, then I don't like myself.
If I did create a hell, then it certainly would not be smart to advertise that fact. How would I know if people were claiming to love me for my own sake, or simply to avoid punishment? How can I expect someone to love me who is afraid of me in the first place? The threat of eternal torment might scare some people into obedience, but it does nothing to inspire love. If you treated me with threats and intimidations, I would have to reconsider my admiration for your character.
How would you feel if you had brought some children into the world knowing that they were going to be tormented eternally in a place you built for them? Could you live with yourself? Wouldn't it have been better not to have brought them into the world in the first place?
I know that some of you feel that hell is just a metaphor. Do you feel the same way about heaven?
Anyway, this whole love argument is wrong. Since I am perfect, I don't lack anything. I can't be lonely. I don't need to be loved. I don't even want to be loved because to want is to lack. To submit to the potential of giving and receiving love is to admit that I can be hurt by those who choose not to love me. If you can hurt me, I am not perfect. If I can't be hurt, I can't love. If I ignore or erase those who do not love me, sending them off to hell or oblivion, then my love is not sincere. If all I am doing is throwing the dice of "free will" and simply reaping the harvest of those who choose to love me, then I am a selfish monster. If you played such games with people's lives, I would call you insensitive, conceited, insecure, selfish and manipulative.
I know you have tried to get me off the hook. You explain that Yours Truly is not responsible for the sufferings of unbelievers because rejection of God is their choice, not mine. They had a corrupt human nature, you explain. Well, who gave them their human nature? If certain humans decide to do wrong, where do they get the impulse? If you think it came from Satan, who created Satan? And why would some humans be susceptible to Satan in the first place? Who created that susceptibility? If Satan was created perfect, and then fell, where did the flaw of perdition come from? If I am perfect, then how in God's name did I end up creating something that would not choose perfection? Someone once said that a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.
Here is the title for your next theological tome: Was Eve Perfect? If she was, she would not have taken the fruit. If she wasn't, I created imperfection.
Maybe you think all of this gives me a purpose--putting Humpty Dumpty back together--but it actually gives me a headache. (If you won't permit me a simple headache, then how can you allow me the pain of lost love?) I could not live with myself if I thought my actions were causing harm to others. Well, I shouldn't say that. Since I think you created me, I suppose I should let you tell me what I could live with. If you think it is consistent with my character to tolerate love and vengeance concurrently, then I have no choice. If you are my creator, then I could spout tenderness out of one side of my mouth and brutality out of the other. I could dance with my lover on the bones of my errant children, and pretend to enjoy it. I would be very human indeed.
I have a thousand more questions, but I hope you will allow me one more:
How do I decide what is right and wrong?
I don't know how I got here, but I'm here. Let's just say that my purpose is to make good people out of my creations. Let's say that I am to help you learn how to be perfect like me, and that the best way is for you to act just like me, or like I want you to act. You goal is to become little mirrors of myself. Won't that be splendid? I'll give you rules or principles, and you try to follow them. This may or may not be meaningful, but it will keep us both busy. I suppose that from your point of view this would be terribly meaningful, since you think I have the power to reward and punish.
I know that some of you Protestant theologians think that I give rewards not for good deeds, but simply for believing in my son Jesus who paid the punishment for your bad deeds. Well, Jesus spent only about thirty-six hours of an eternal life sentence in hell and is now back up here in ultimate coziness with me. Talk about a wrist-slap! He was not paroled for good behavior--he was simply released. (He had connections.) If my righteous judgment demanded absolute satisfaction, then Jesus should have paid the price in full, don't you think?
Beyond that, it is entirely incomprehensible to me why you think I would accept the blood of one individual for the crime of another. Is that fair? Is that justice? If you commit a felony, does the law allow your brother to serve the jail sentence for you? If someone burglarized your home, would you think justice was served if a friend bought you new furniture? Do you really think that I am such a bloodthirsty dictator that I will be content with the death of anyone for the crime of another? And are you so disrespectful of justice that you would happily accept a stand-in for your crimes? What about personal responsibility? It is tough to open my arms to welcome believers into heaven who have avoided the rap for their own actions. Something is way out of kilter here.
But let's ignore these objections. Let's assume that Jesus and I worked it all out and that evil will be punished and good rewarded. How do I know the difference? You are insisting that I not consult any rule book. You are asking me to be the Final Authority. I must simply decide, and you must trust my decision. Am I free to decide whatever I want?
Suppose I decide that I would like you to honor me with a day of my own. I like the number seven, I don't know why, maybe because it is the first useless number. (You never sing any hymns to me in 7/4 time.) Let's divide the calendar into groups of seven days and call them weeks. For harmony, I'll divide each lunar phase into roughly seven days. The last day of the week--or maybe the first day, I don't care--I'll set aside for myself. Let's call it the Sabbath. This all feels good, so I suppose it is the right thing to do. I'll make a law ordering you to observe the Sabbath, and if you do it then I will pronounce you good people. In fact, I'll make it one of my Big Ten Commandments, and I'll order your execution if you disobey. This all makes perfect sense, I don't know why.
Help me out here. How am I supposed to choose what is moral? Since I can't consult any authority, the thing to do, it appears, is to pick randomly. Actions will become right or wrong simply because I declare them to be so. If I whimsically say that you should not make any graven or molten images of "anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth," then that is that. If I decide that murder is right and compassion is wrong, you will have to accept it.
Is that all there is to it? I just decide, willy-nilly, what is right and what is wrong? Or worse, I decide based on whatever makes me feel good? I have read in some of your literature that you denounce such self-centered attitudes.
Some of you say that since I am perfect, I can't make any mistakes. Whatever I choose to be right or wrong will be in accordance with my nature, and since I am perfect, then my choices will be perfect. In any event, my choices will certainly be better than your choices, you feel. But what does "perfect" mean? If my nature is "perfect" (whatever it means), then I am living up to a standard. If I am living up to a standard, then I am not God. If perfection means something all by itself, apart from me, then I am constrained to follow its path. If, on the other hand, perfection is defined simply as conformity to my nature, then it doesn't mean anything. My nature can be what it wants, and perfection will be defined accordingly. Do you see the problem here? If "perfection" equals "God," then it is just a synonym for myself, and we can do away with the word. We could do away with either word, take your pick.
If I am perfect, then there are certain things that I cannot do. If I am not free to feel envy, lust, or malice, for example, then I am not omnipotent. I cannot be more powerful than you if you can feel and do things that I cannot.
Additionally, if you feel that God is perfect, by nature, what does "nature" mean? The word is used to describe the way things are or act in nature, and since you think I am above nature, you must mean something else, something like "character," or "attributes." To have a nature or character means to be one way and not another. It means that there are limits. Why am I one way and not another? How did it get decided that my nature would be what it is? If my "nature" is clearly defined, then I am limited. I am not God. If my nature has no limits, as some of you suggest, then I have no nature at all, and to say that God has such-and-such a nature is meaningless. In fact, if I have no limits, then I have no identity; and if I have no identity, then I do not exist.
Who am I?
This brings me back to the conundrum: if I don't know who I am, then how can I decide what is right? Do I just poke around in myself until I come up with something?
There is one course I could pursue, and some of you have suggested this for yourselves. I could base my pronouncements on what is best for you humans. You people have physical bodies that bump around in a physical world. I could determine those actions that are healthy and beneficial for material beings in a material environment. I could make morality something material: something that is relative to human life, not to my whims. I could declare (by conclusion, not by edict) that harming human life is bad, and that helping or enhancing human life is good. This would be like providing an operation manual for something I designed and manufactured. It would require me to know all about human nature and the environment in which you humans live, and to communicate these ideas to you.
This makes a lot of sense, but it changes my task from one of determining morality to one of communicating morality. If morality is discovered in nature, then you don't need me, except maybe to prod you along. I saw to it that you have capable minds with the ability to reason and do science. There is nothing mysterious about studying how humans interact with nature and with each other, and you should be able to come up with your own set of rules. Some of you tried this millennia before Moses. Even if your rules contradict mine, I couldn't claim any higher authority than you. At least you would be able to give reasons for your rules, which I can only do by submitting to science myself.
If morality is defined by how human beings exist in nature, then you don't need me at all. I am off the hook! From what I have read, most of you have your feet on the ground with no help from me. I could hand down some stone tablets containing what I think is right and wrong, but it would still be up to you to see if they work in the real world. I think we all agree that grounded reason is better than the whim of an ungrounded deity.
This is a wonderful approach, but what bothers me is that while this may help you know what is moral in your environment, it doesn't help me much. I don't have an environment. I'm out here flapping in the breeze. I envy you.
Nor does the humanistic approach help those of you who want morality to be rooted in something absolute, outside of yourselves. It must be frightening for you who need an anchor to realize that there is no bottom to the ocean. Well, it's frightening for me also. I don't have an anchor of my own. That's why I'm asking for your help.
Thank you for reading my letter, and for letting me impose on your busy schedule. Please answer at your convenience. I have all the time in the world.
© Copyright 1990 by Dan Barker. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not distribute copies of this chapter in this form.
By Dan Barker
EVERYTHING WE DO in life has ripple effects. Sometimes we see the results, and sometimes we don't.
On January 16, 1984, I sent out this letter announcing my new-found atheism to more than fifty colleagues, friends, and family members:
"You probably already know that I have gone through some significant changes regarding spiritual things. The past five or six years has been a time of deep re-evaluation for me, and during the last couple of years I have decided that I can no longer honestly call myself a Christian. You can probably imagine that it has been an agonizing process for me. I was raised in a good Christian home, served in missions and evangelism, went to a Christian college, became ordained and ministered in three churches as Assistant Pastor. During those years I was 100 percent convinced of my faith, and now I am just about 100 percent unconvinced.
"The purpose of this letter is not to present my case. Yet, I will point out that my studies have brought me through many important areas, most notably: the authenticity of the Bible, faith vs. reason, church history--and a bunch of other fun subjects like evolution, physics, psychology, self-esteem, philosophy, parapsychology, pseudo-science, mathematics, etc.
"I'm not sure what the purpose of this letter is, except to serve as a point of information to a friend or relative whom I consider to be important in my life, and with whom I could not bear to be dishonest. I have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. I still basically maintain the same Christian values of kindness, love, giving, temperance and respect that I was raised with. Christianity has much good. Yet I feel I can demonstrate an alternate, rational basis for those values outside of a system of faith and authority. Of course, I admit, those values cannot save me from the fires of hell--but it is irrational to hold a fear of something which is non-existent, and to allow that fear to dominate one's philosophy and way of life.
"If the Bible is true I will run to it willingly. If there is a God, I would be silly to deny Him. In fact, the little child in me still sometimes wishes to regain the comforts and reassurances of my former beliefs. I am a human being with the same fears and feelings we all share. The Bible says those who seek will find. You know me. I am constantly seeking. And I have not found. Right now I am somewhere between the agnostic and the atheist, although I spend a great deal of time in both camps.
"There is much more to say, and I would greatly appreciate any input you can offer. I would suggest, though, that before we attempt any meaningful dialogue, we should understand as much as possible about each other's thoughts. If you wish, I will send you any of various papers I am preparing, including: The Bible, Faith vs. Reason, . . .
"Finally, I am not your enemy. Our enemy is the one who doesn't care about these subjects--who thinks that you and I are silly to be concerned with life and values. I intend no disrespect to you, or anyone who is genuinely interested in religion and philosophy. It is the non-thinker who bothers me and with whom meaningful interaction is impossible.
Today I would write a completely different letter, but that's where I was at the time. The "little child" nostalgia lasted about a year, and has been replaced with embarrassment that I ever believed. The distinction between agnostic and atheist has been clarified.
After I put the copies of my letter in the mail, I felt relief. The only thing to do was wait for the reactions.
"Sorry to hear about your recent commitment to be uncommitted to the Lamb of God that you so beautifully had written about and put to music in such a successful way," wrote Assembly of God pastor Mark Griffo, a former co-missionary who had been one of the kids in a church choir I directed, and whom I had encouraged to enter the ministry. "I realize you're not my enemy, as you stated, but Satan is! He's out to rob, kill and destroy life. . . . My heart tears within me trying to figure out the answer you'll give [children] when they ask you, 'Dan, can you write more songs so my future children can know the source of love, Jesus Christ, like you do?' I'm praying for you always and looking forward to your resurrection."
To Mark, I am dead.
Mark's wife Debbie was less charitable: "Meaningful interaction you want? There is nothing meaningful about the beliefs that you have chosen. . . . I am sorry that the Lamb you once wrote about is no longer Lord of your life. To really know the almighty God, Saviour, King, all knowing, all powerful, all loving creator of you and I [sic], is to never leave Him. . . . Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord."
David Gustafeson, director of Pacific & Asia Christian University in Hawaii who had been a co-pastor with me at a church in La Puente, wrote: "I was somewhat shocked by your letter . . . I guess I'll just have to pray harder. . . . I believe an acid test is to simply cry out to 'God' (whether you believe or not) and ask Him to radically and ruthlessly correct you if you are wrong. . . . it would be better for God to use 'any means' to show you the truth, than for one to find out he had been misled too late. . . . I have read your papers, and of course they present a good case. I wouldn't expect anything else from someone as brilliant as you. I think the contradictions in the Bible show the beauty of God speaking through frail humanity, and yet keeping the main message of the bible intact." I sent Dave an exhaustive response, and received from him a box of fourteen cassette tapes from a theologian.
I had penned a note at the bottom of my letter to Gospel Light Publications, telling them that I would understand if they decided not to continue working with me. We were in the middle of a project. Wes Haystead wrote: "Thanks for honestly sharing your journey with me. I promise not to start bombarding you with tracts and Josh McDowell books . . . As to our continuing to work together, I vote aye. Provided of course that you can get me three songs for Sunrise Island real quick. Sort of sounds like schedule takes precedence over principles, eh? Actually, I value highly your talent, your sensitivity, your flexibility and your friendship. Therefore I hope we can continue working together until one of us converts the other or you feel the goals of our projects are incompatible with your directions."
I did go ahead and finish writing the Sunrise Island Vacation Bible School mini-musicale for Gospel Light. It was a strange feeling to be working professionally on a project with which I disagreed philosophically, but I justified the hypocrisy by noting that Gospel Light would have had a hard time staying on schedule and on budget if they changed horses in the middle of the stream, and that they were fully aware of my change in views.
Hal Spencer, president of Manna Music, publisher of my musicals and other Christian songs, wrote: "My immediate response is that this can't be true and that you are only going through a doubting time of your life. However, knowing you, I'm afraid that there is more to it than that. . . . I will be asking the Lord to guide me also if there is something that I can say which might influence your feelings." Hal and I met for lunch a couple of months later. Although he is quite knowledgeable about the music industry (his father was Tim Spencer, one of the "Sons of the Pioneers"), he has not given much thought to theology or philosophy. He kept pointing to a leaf in a flower arrangement next to our table, saying, "How did that leaf get here?" After I addressed the problems with the design and first-cause arguments, he turned back to the leaf and said, "But I just can't imagine how that leaf got here without a Creator." We later bumped into each other in the Nashville airport in 1985 when I was debating a minister and he was at a country music awards ceremony, and the chance meeting was so surprising that he said, "See, this proves there is a God!" Though I have not written anything else for Manna Music, my musicals are still selling, and Hal has continued to treat me professionally.
Eli Peralta was my ninth-grade Spanish teacher. He was one of the Peralta Brothers Quartet with whom I had ministered during high school. He wrote: "Thank you for letting us know the status of your life change. Rest assured that the pureness and clarity of your communication is being accepted in a spirit of love and consideration. It is significant that in the days prior to your letter arriving, I was reminiscing about our fellowship and friendship of years gone by and wishing that we could visit sometime. . . . My brothers and I still think of you with many fond memories and fun times we had together. I have informed them regarding your journey from faith to reason, and even though it has made a significant emotional impact on us, I for one feel a deep sense of calm and still consider ourselves friends!"
Jill Johnson, wife of the associate pastor at the Auburn church where I did my final Christian concert, sent me a surprisingly tolerant letter: "I totally support your sincere desire to seek out the truth in love. I feel for you because in a certain sense the decision you've made has got to be a cataclysmic event not only for you and those you love (I keep thinking of your Dad for some reason), but also to so many outside your home sphere. But I believe in honesty and since you believe with all of your being in what you espouse, I'm sure it's a necessity for you to continue following this path. . . . When you 'break the rules' there are always those who will have a desire or a need to punish or judge or condemn . . . and I just hope and pray most people will be gentle with you even though you and they are not in agreement. . . . I am so happy that I was able to hear you in concert and I have no doubt that you will continue to create beauty in spheres other than the Christian one."
Loren McBain, pastor of the First (American) Baptist Church of Ontario, California which my family was attending and where I had briefly served as interim Music Director, wrote: "I'd really like to stay in touch with you if only for lunch once in a while. I'd especially be happy to play chess when you want, the odds now clearly in my favor since God will be on my side!" Perhaps with patience running thin, the same man wrote a less friendly letter ten months later: "You and I both know Dan that you have heard, and you fully understand 'God's rules for living,' and that you are now living by your own rules. . . . I understand them as simple disobedience."
A co-worker, Scoti Domeij, wrote: "Does this mean that we won't be seeing each other at MusiCalifornia [a Christian conference] (Ha! Ha!) . . . I am not offended or the least bit surprised by your journey from faith to reason. Your questioning has surfaced in many different ways when we have been together. I do feel some sadness and wonder what hurt and deep disappointments have precipitated your journey from faith to reason."
Shirley and Verlin Cox had regularly helped me arrange meetings in Indiana. "I must admit to a bit of a shock," Shirley wrote. "At first I wanted to write a 'preachy' letter to you but after much reflection and prayer I realize you know more 'Bible' than I and Verlin will ever know. We haven't been through college the way you have . . . Yes, we are broken hearted that you've rejected our Lord but we have hope and our prayers will continue . . . While in Florida last year we were delighted to see your 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and churches in Indiana in our area still present it. Oh yes, 'Mary Had' was a puppet show on TV."
I received a letter from Sister Tammy Schinhofen, of whom I have no memory: "About eight years ago you were instrumental in my accepting Jesus as my personal Savior. . . . I thank God that I am a jewel placed in your crown. Don't let the enemy take away or tarnish your crown."
One of my best friends was a man who was largely responsible for the promotional success of my musicals, an iconoclastic believer. It is not easy for him, being gay in a fundamentalist community. He wrote: "I don't know if I can say I 'enjoyed' your letter--there must be a better word. I know how you feel. I've surely been there myself (may still be there). What struck me so forcefully was the realization that 'the Christians' react to your questioning as they do, not because you have lost your faith, but because you have lost theirs!"
Many of the letters were sincere, but without content. "I don't have any answers," wrote one friend. "It's not a matter of logic or intelligence," wrote another. "Human intellectual ability and capacities, no matter how great, are not sufficient," wrote a woman faith-healer.
Many of the letters contained ad hominem arguments. One co-worker told me that I had "given in to the desires of self life," and a neighbor wrote that I must be "hurt and bitter." Another tried to get me to admit my "deep wounds." A woman preacher announced that "sometime along the way you became angry with God," and a co-pastor told me that "you are on a selfish journey at the expense of your own integrity."
The high-school aged daughter of one of my close Christian friends, living in a missionary compound, wrote: "I can't say I pray for you every day because I don't. . . . Right now in school we are learning Biology from a teacher who only knows about philosophy, medieval history, and English literature. . . . How do you think we got on this planet?" I wrote to her and her mother, who live in a Christian community connected with the University of the Nations, operated by the charismatic evangelistic organization Youth With A Mission in Kona, Hawaii, challenging the school to a debate on the issues. I never heard a thing from them.
About a month after my letter was sent out, I received a call from the Vice President and Dean of Academic Instruction at Azusa Pacific University, Dr. Don Grant. He and the director of alumni affairs met with me for lunch one afternoon to see what had gone wrong with one of their emissaries. Don had been the director of the Dynamics Chorale for which I played piano and sang on scholarship during my years at Azusa Pacific. It was an amicable lunch, but they nevertheless were fishing for some way to get me back in the fold. The conversation was at a more articulate level than most, but when I responded with scholarly and documented arguments that they had never heard, they fell back on the same old ad hominem responses, psychological guesswork, and so on. As we were walking back to our cars I thanked them for their time and willingness to discuss the issues, and I made them a challenge. I told them that I would be willing to participate in a debate at Azusa Pacific against any one of their professors on the question of the existence of God. I never heard from them again.
I have never seen Manuel Bonilla again (the Mexican Christian singer), but we did talk on the phone a couple of times. He told me that he just "knew" that the spirit of God was on my life, particularly since I had arranged and recorded an especially inspired version of a religious song on one of his albums in late 1983, playing the piano with conviction behind his singing. I asked Manuel if he would be surprised to know that while I was arranging and playing that song, I was a secret atheist and that my inspiration was musical, not spiritual. He didn't say a word. When I talked with Manuel again in 1985, he was friendly, but told me that he would be willing to offer me some counseling to help me get through my struggles. The only thing I could think of was to say that I was happy, and to thank him for his friendship.
Shortly after my letter was sent out I met for lunch with Bob and Myrna Wright, two very close friends. Bob had been the pastor of the Standard Community Christian Center, and had conducted my ordination ceremony. They told me that they wanted to apologize to me. They said that they were sorry that they had not sensed my inner struggles leading up to my rejection of Christianity. If they had known, perhaps they could have helped me avoid the discouragement and disappointment that led to my change of views. This was a difficult meeting because I loved and respected these people and I knew that they were sincere. I told them that my deconversion had nothing to do with any personal problems, that it had to do with the nature and content of the Christian message itself. I tried to explain that ad hominem counseling was beside the point. They didn't get it.
To press my point I decided to create some cognitive dissonance. "What would happen to me," I asked, "if I were to die right now?" They were silent. "Bob, you're an ordained minister. You know your Bible. What happens to unbelievers?"
"Well, the Bible says they go to hell," he responded.
"You know me," I continued. "I'm not a bad person. I'm honest. If I walk out of this restaurant and get killed by a truck, will I go straight to hell?" They didn't want to answer that question, squirming in their seats. "Well, do you believe the Bible?" I pressed.
"Of course," Myrna said.
"Then will I go to hell?"
"Yes," they finally answered, but not without a great deal of discomfort. Perhaps it was not a nice lunch topic, but I wanted to make the brutality of Christianity real to them. I knew it would be hard for them to imagine their God punishing someone like me. I later heard that they were perturbed with me for having coerced them to say I was going to hell. It forced them to acknowledge that, as much as we wanted to be friends, their religion considers me the enemy.
The letters I received and the conversations that followed my "enlightenment" were all across the board. They displayed love, hatred, and everything in between. Many friendships were lost, others transformed, and still others strengthened. Of all of the letters and attempts to get me back in the fold, not a single one had any intellectual impact. Although I was saddened at having discontinued some relationships, I find I do not miss them. I suppose it is much like a divorce; even though there were good times and happy memories, once it's over, it's over.
Few of the letters offered any defense of bible contradictions. No one presented any documentary evidences from the first century. Not a single rational argument for the existence of a god beyond the where-did-we-come-from garden variety. Most of the responses centered on things like humility, shame, attitude, prayer--in short, "spiritual" intimidation.
Dave Gustafeson's challenge to "cry out to God" is nothing less than intellectual dishonesty. One of my friends asked me simply to "pretend that Jesus is real and he will make himself real to you." Have either of them ever "cried out to Buddha" or "pretended that Allah is real" as an acid test of their existence? These people are asking me to lie to myself. Anyway, they should know better. They should know that I had already "cried out to God," that I had frequently prayed and "felt the spirit" within me, that I had many times gone through the motions. They don't seem to realize that I was not seeking inner confirmation--I was seeking objective, external evidence. Besides, even if I did manage to "fake it," would an omniscient god not know this?
The almost universal tone of the letters and conversations was that I was the one with the problem. None acknowledged that my change of mind might be an indictment of Christianity. Some of them formerly had come to me for counseling, but now they no longer want to learn from me. (I don't think they should have to.) They all assumed that the challenge at hand was to get me back. Even the few who did ask to read my papers never commented on them, except superficially.
I don't know if any of these people have changed their views at all, but I do know that none of them will be the same. You can't help but be affected when one of your very own challenges the very core of your beliefs. Although the fallout from my friends and co-workers is hard to determine, the effect on my family was much more dramatic.
When my parents got my letter they were shocked. They had been proud of their son's work as an ordained minister, evangelist, and Christian songwriter. Not knowing anything about my gradual change, this announcement came as a total surprise. My mother immediately hopped on a bus, traveling from Phoenix to my home in California, and we had a long, emotional discussion into the early morning hours. She would never be the same, but it wasn't until much later that I learned the long-term effects of her visit.
My mother tells me that she was stunned by the dissonance. Backing off to get some perspective, she never went to church again. In a Wisconsin Magazine article, published by the Milwaukee Journal (July 28, 1991), journalist Bill Lueders quotes my mother, Pat, as she recalled our late-night meeting: "The answers he gave me impressed my heart and mind. . . . I had so much love for my son that I knew in some way he was right." Within weeks she concluded that religion was "just a bunch of baloney," feeling a "tremendously great disappointment in God." She began to do some reading and thinking of her own, and today happily calls herself an unbeliever.
One fact that surprised my mother was that no one in her church ever seemed to care about her departure. She had been a member of the Assembly of God for years, had performed in the choir, had sung solos regularly in services, had taught Sunday School, and had participated in many other functions. The only incident out of the ordinary, after leaving the church, was an embarrassing moment when she was grabbed at the supermarket by an older woman who was shaking, speaking in tongues, and praying to cast the devil out of my mother. Needless to say, this only confirmed my mother's new-found opinion that religion is "baloney."
It took my Dad a little longer. When he got my letter he ran down to the church altar and poured out his heart to God. He enlisted the assistance of church members to pray for me. The pastor laid hands on Dad, asking God for a special blessing during this trial of faith. At first Dad tried to argue with me, in a friendly way, and we racked up many pages of correspondence on the issues. Eventually he backed off, due probably as much to Mom's influence as to mine. He began to read the "other side," and eventually came to respect the reasoning of freethinkers.
The same Wisconsin Magazine article quotes my father Norman Barker discussing how he dealt with his son's change of views: "I tried to straighten him out. It worked the other way around." After Dad stopped believing in God, he was amazed at how quickly his Christian friends turned on him. "I used to think it was a tough thing to be a Christian in this big, bad world. You want to see something interesting, try not being one." He reports, "I'm much happier now." "To be free from superstition and fear and guilt and the sin complex, to be able to think freely and objectively, is a tremendous relief."
One of the immediate benefits to my Dad was in the field of music. Back in the 1950s, when he and Mom became "born again," my Dad abandoned his career as a trombone player in dance bands (he had played for Hoagy Carmichael's radio orchestra and many other bands, including a stint with U.S.O. during the war, and on some Hollywood movies), throwing away his collection of swing recordings, turning his back on his former "sinful" life, playing his trombone only in church. He had come to view popular music as "worldly" and contrary to spiritual health. When he finally gave up religion in the late 1980s, he had come around full circle, but this didn't happen in one clean break. Before leaving the church, Dad began to play his trombone in local jazz bands in the Phoenix area, reconnecting with the life he had abandoned almost forty years before. He didn't tell anyone at church what he was doing because he knew they would disapprove. One night while Dad was playing in a dance band at a Fourth of July party, there happened to be TV coverage of the event which captured a glimpse of the band in the background. The next day the pastor's wife called my Dad and said, "Did I see you on TV last night?" Ha! The all-seeing eye of God! Dad could not continue this secret double life for long, so he finally made a clean break, abandoning "Onward, Christian Soldiers" in favor of "Don't Get Around Much Any More."
One night, just before he dumped the whole system of belief, Dad drove to church, took his trombone case out of the car and walked toward the building where he could hear the praying, singing, and preaching. When he got to the door it struck him that he did not belong there any more. Hoping that no one would notice, he quickly turned around and went home.
I never suggested to my parents that they should become atheists. They did their own thinking. They decided to investigate all sides of the issues. It is exciting to see what has happened in their lives. I don't think it is possible to pull someone out of religion if they don't want to go. All we can do is provide information and be an example.
One of the ripples radiating out from the example of unbelief was the effect on my younger brother Darrell. At first he was shocked, but then he grew enthused to see an open doubter. Darrell was, after all, a closet skeptic for many years, not knowing exactly what he believed but covering the bases just in case. I like to quip that Darrell never was a very good Christian. When I gave him a book on humanism, he said, "That's what I am! I never knew it until now, but I am a humanist." He was uncomfortable with the word "atheist," and when he asked to accompany me to a meeting of atheists in Los Angeles, he almost changed his mind and sat out in the car. A year or two later Darrell became one of the chapter directors of Atheists United. He went on to complain about violations of state/church separation in Redlands and San Bernardino. He became a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit protesting county ownership and maintenance of a Christian theme park on public property. My folks tell me that Darrell was a solid support for them when they were going through their initial disillusionment with religion. It is helpful to have someone to talk to during times like this, and Darrell called them regularly to compare notes on their new-found analysis of Christianity.
The gradual change in my parents and my brother Darrell was tremendously heartening. I never would have predicted such an outcome. My parents had been fervent evangelists for Jesus for years, and Darrell had been a street preacher with a missionary organization. I should have known that in a relationship that is based on true love and acceptance, there is nothing to fear. The fact that these born-again, door-to-door preachers were open to change gives me hope. It makes me realize that there is something that soars high above religion. There is something in life that is far superior to Jesus, more excellent than dogma. Real love, kindness, and intelligence know no barriers.
My other brother, Tom, is a born-again Christian. He is a good man, hard-working and conscientious. Although we have never been very close, we enjoy seeing each other occasionally, and the subject of religion never comes up. I sometimes refer to Tom as the "white sheep" of the family.
My maternal grandmother "Grams" was an uneducated, loving and generous woman whose views on religion fluctuated according to her medication. She and I were very close. When she received my letter she must have been torn apart with the issue, writing: "I won't give in to the Devil." Later, Grams wrote me again, in a more characteristic mood: "You sure don't have to defend yourself to me. You are a good man, one of the Best I have ever seen, and I am thankful for that. . . . I just stay open minded and try to live a good life. That's all I can do." A few years later Grams told me that she had scared off some Jehovah's Witnesses at her front door, growling, "Get out of here! I'm an atheist!" I don't think she really was an atheist, because at other times she spoke about God and Jesus in her life. But at least she became more broad-minded. To a large degree this was due to the change in my parents.
My paternal grandmother lives in Oklahoma. After Granddad died in 1986, she and I worked on a four-year project together, publishing Paradise Remembered, a book of Granddad's collected stories of life as a Delaware (Lenape) Indian boy in Indian Territory before Oklahoma became a state. She has been a member of the Christian Church her entire life, and I know she is uncomfortable with my deconversion. She happened to see one of my appearances on "Oprah Winfrey," and wrote me a postcard saying, "I saw you on TV. That is not our Danny." Despite that, we have continued to get along wonderfully.
Two of my uncles have responded in a friendly and civil manner to the obvious change in our views, but Dad's third brother, a committed Christian, is ostracizing us, refusing to answer letters. After I sent him a copy of Paradise Remembered (his Dad's memories), which has been received with excitement and gratitude by the rest of the family, he sent it back to me without explanation. I can only assume that he is unwilling to associate with his "unclean" relatives.
My four children in California have been very good about the whole controversy. Unless they bring it up, or unless it happens to arise in the course of normal conversation, we do not discuss religion. When they visit Wisconsin, I offer to escort them to the church of their choice, but they have never taken me up on it. Two or three times during her high-school years my daughter Becky sent me a letter urging me to "come back to God," so I know that they have struggled with the issue. But I have repeatedly told them that my love for them is not contingent on what they believe. They can be Christians if they want, as long as they are good people and don't hurt others. They go to church with their mother, who works at a Christian school, and their stepfather, a youth director at a Baptist church. They know what I think. I have never wanted them to be forced into a position of having to choose between parents. They are smart kids, and I have to trust that they have the ability to sift fact from fiction, and right from wrong. I dedicated Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children to them, which says:
"No one can tell you what to think.
Not your teachers.
Not your parents.
Not your minister, priest, or rabbi.
Not your friends or relatives.
Not this book.
You are the boss of your own mind.
If you have used your own mind to find out what is true, then you should be proud!
Your thoughts are free."
After my Christian marriage ended, I moved into a tiny one-room apartment in Cucamonga. (Yes, there is a Cucamonga.) My brother Darrell had a friend who wrote for The San Bernardino Sun-Times, and they ran a feature story about my de-conversion for which I enlisted the help of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and in which they gave coverage to Freethought Today. It was not long after this that my correspondence with Annie Laurie Gaylor blossomed into a long-distance courtship. I moved to Wisconsin, and in May, 1987 we were married. The freethought-feminist wedding, a "match not made in heaven," took place at Sauk City's historic Freethought Hall. It was conducted by a woman judge wearing purple shoes with her judicial robe, announcing, "You may now kiss the groom." (See Part 9 for complete text of the ceremony.)
One of the "ripple effects" was Sabrina Delata Gaylor, our daughter born in September, 1989, a fourth-generation freethinker on her mother's side of the family, and a full member of the Delaware (Lenape) Tribe of American Indians on my side. Sabrina also has some Chiricahua Apache blood, from my mother's great-grandmother, who was a full-blooded member of the Arizona tribe from which Geronimo came. (Geronimo's clan fought the intrusion of the Spanish missionaries.) Just as some religious parents name their children "Faith," or "Charity," or "Hope," we looked for a name that would reflect reason. "Delata(h)" is the Delaware Indian word for "thought" or "reason."
In 1987 I went to work full-time for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. The Foundation is a national organization of freethinkers--atheists, agnostics, secular humanists--working to keep state and church separate and to educate the public about the views of nontheists. Working for the Foundation has been exciting and intellectually satisfying. It has given me an opportunity to continue "spreading the good news," and to utilize (and improve) some of the skills that I gained from preaching. Writing regular articles for the Foundation's newspaper Freethought Today, doing radio and TV shows, participating in debates on university campuses and churches, composing freethought music, performing concerts, giving speeches, writing "nontracts" and freethought books for children--all of this has allowed me to continue studying the issues which have interested me my entire life, and to keep speaking out.
During these years with the Foundation, I have noticed that speaking out does make a difference. The Foundation has been able to make contact with thousands of other freethinkers around the continent, and has helped motivate many of them to become more visible with their views. At the end of one of my debates in Iowa, a student came up to me and said, "Go ahead and add my name to your list. I was raised a Catholic in a small farming town and have never been able to acknowledge my doubts until now." Right there, a freethinker was born.
This might sound like a Sunday-evening church testimony, but I have to say that my life has been much better since I got the religious monkey off my back. Invalid friendships have been discarded, the true love of people like my parents has been wonderful and affirming, and the new freethinking friends have more than made up for any initial temporary sense of loss. Dishonesty is too high a cost for maintaining a friendship. In order to get pure gold, you have to melt it and skim off the impurities.
We never know fully how our actions affect others. I have read articles that have had tremendous impact on my thinking, but I never wrote to thank the author. Freethinkers who write letters to the local newspaper sometimes feel discouraged when they receive not a single positive response; but this does not mean someone's life has not been changed. I think all of our actions are like that. What we do produces ripples that radiate out much farther than we may have intended or imagined. In today's religion-crazed world, speaking out as a freethinker can't help but have an impact.
This was Dan Barker's first article for Freethought Today. It ran in the June 1984 issue.
Religion is a powerful thing. Few can resist its charms and few can truly break its embrace. It is the siren who entices the wandering traveler with songs of love and desire and, once successful, turns a mind into stone. It is a Venus fly trap. Its attraction is like that of drugs to an addict who, wishing to be free and happy, becomes trapped and miserable.
But the saddest part of the dependency is the fact that most participants are willing victims. They think they are happy. They believe religion has kept its promises and have no desire to search elsewhere. They are deeply in love with their faith and have been blinded by that love--blinded to the point of unquestioning sacrifice.
I know this is true because I was one of Christ's disciples for over nineteen years, and my subsequent self-excision was/is traumatically painful.
My Dad was a professional musician during the 1940's. At one of his concerts he met a female vocalist and, as things go, they went (lucky for me). They got married and, when I was a toddler, they both found true religion. Dad threw away his collection of original Glenn Miller recordings (ouch!), turned his back on his former "sinful" life and enrolled in seminary to become a minister. He didn't finish because of the strong demands of raising three boys. But he lived his faith through his family and through lay ministry in local churches.
My folks' spirituality was so strong that they often found it hard to find a church that met their needs. So we church-hopped for many years. I can't remember all the churches, but we were Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, fundamentalist, evangelical, "Bible-believing" and charismatic.
For a number of years we formed a family musical team and ministered in many Southern California churches--nothing fantastic--Dad played trombone and preached, Mom sang solos, I played piano, my brothers tooted various instruments and we all joined in singing those famous gospel harmonies. It was a neat experience for us kids. My childhood was filled with love, fun and purpose. I felt truly fortunate to have been born into the "truth" and at the age of fifteen I committed myself to a lifetime of Christian ministry.
My commitment lasted nineteen years. It gave my life a feeling of purpose, destiny and fulfillment. I spent years trekking across Mexico in missionary work--small villages, jungles, deserts, large arenas, radio, television, parks, prisons and street meetings. I spent more years in traveling evangelism across the United States preaching and singing in churches, on street corners, house-to-house witnessing, college campuses and wherever an audience could be found.
I was a "doer of the word and not a hearer only." I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.
I served for a while as librarian for Kathryn Kuhlman's Los Angeles choir, observing the "miracles" first-hand. I was even instrumental in a few healings myself.
For a number of years I directed the "King's Children," a local Christian music group that performed quite extensively including a brief term of hosting a local Christian television show.
For fifteen years I worked with Manuel Bonilla, the leading Christian recording artist in the Spanish-speaking world. I was his main producer/arranger, and working with him gave me the opportunity to learn the skills to produce many more Christian albums, including some of my own.
I have written more than a hundred Christian songs which are either published or recorded by various artists, and two of my children's musicals continue to be best sellers around the world. ("Mary Had A Little Lamb," a Christmas musical, and "His Fleece Was White as Snow," for Easter, both published and distributed by Manna Music. You can see the religious symbolism: Christ, the unspotted lamb of god who became the final sacrifice for sin.)
I could go on listing my Christian accomplishments, but I think you can see that I was very serious about my faith, and that I am quite capable of analyzing religion from the inside out.
Last Friday evening I directed a bible study in my own home. I opened it to all comers and announced that I would welcome all points of view with the purpose of examining the documents with skepticism rather than faith. The eight people who arrived (to my astonishment) were Christians who had been informed of my present atheistic stance and were curious about my intentions. My closest ally was my brother, a theistic agnostic [Darrell is now an activist freethinker]. One fellow, a theologian, informed me that his purpose in coming was to convert me back to the faith. (He failed.)
It was a fun, lively evening and much information was exchanged, but I noticed something interesting. They were more concerned about me and my atheism than they were about the bible. The discussion kept coming around to an analysis of my conversion from the faith. They were intrigued that someone who had been so strongly religious could so radically "stray" and not be ashamed. They kept probing for some deep psychological cause, some hidden disappointment, secret bitterness, temptation or pride. They were like spiritual doctors trying to remove a tumor or blinding cataract.
One fellow suggested I had been blinded by Satan--the Devil being so intimidated by my strong Christian witness that he needed to neutralize the enemy, get me out of commission. That was very flattering, but it misses the point.
The point here is that the merits of an argument do not depend on the character of the speaker. All arguments should be weighed for their own sake, based on their own evidences and logical consistencies.
Before the bible study even commenced one fellow said, "Dan, tell us what caused you to lose your faith." So I told them.
I did not lose my faith, I gave it up purposely. The motivation that drove me into the ministry is the same that drove me out. I have always wanted to know. Even as a child I fervently pursued truth. I was rarely content to accept things without examination, and my examinations were intense. I was a thirsty learner, a good student, and a good minister because of that drive. I always took things apart and put them back together again.
Since I was taught and believed Christianity was the answer, the only hope for "man," I dedicated myself to understanding all I possibly could. I devoured every book, every sermon, and the bible. I prayed, fasted and obeyed biblical teaching. I decided that I would lean my whole weight upon the truth of scripture. This attitude, I am sure, gave the impression that I was a notch above, that I could be trusted as a Christian authority and leader. Christians, eager for substantiation, gladly allowed me to assume a place of leadership and I took it as confirmation of my holy calling.
But my mind did not go to sleep. In my thirst for knowledge I did not limit myself to Christian authors but curiously desired to understand the reasoning behind nonChristian thinking. I figured the only way to truly grasp a subject was to look at it from all sides. If I had limited myself to Christian books I would probably still be a Christian today. I read philosophy, theology, science and psychology. I studied evolution and natural history. I read Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, Ayn Rand, John Dewey and others. At first I laughed at these worldly thinkers, but I eventually started discovering some disturbing facts--facts that discredited Christianity. I tried to ignore these facts because they did not integrate with my religious world view.
For years I went through an intense inner conflict. On the one hand I was happy with the direction and fulfillment of my Christian life; on the other hand I had intellectual doubts. Faith and reason began a war within me. And it kept escalating. I would cry out to God for answers, and none would come. Like the battered wife who clings to hope, I kept trusting that God would someday come through. He never did.
The only proposed answer was faith, and I gradually grew to dislike the smell of that word. I finally realized that faith is a cop-out, a defeat--an admission that the truths of religion are unknowable through evidence and reason. It is only undemonstrable assertions that require the suspension of reason, and weak ideas that require faith. I just lost faith in faith. Biblical contradictions became more and more discrepant, apologist arguments more and more absurd and, when I finally discarded faith, things became more and more clear.
But don't imagine that was an easy process. It was like tearing my whole frame of reality to pieces, ripping to shreds the fabric of meaning and hope, betraying the values of existence. It hurt. And it hurt bad. It was like spitting on my mother, or like throwing one of my children out a window. It was sacrilege. All of my bases for thinking and values had to be restructured. Add to that inner conflict the outer conflict of reputation and you have a destabilizing war. Did I really want to discard the respect I had so carefully built over many years with so many important people?
I can understand why people cling to their faith. Faith is comforting. It provides many "answers" to life's riddles. My Christian life was quite positive and I really see no external/cultural reason why I should have rejected it. I continue to share many of the same Christian values I was taught (though I would no longer call them "Christian"--they are my values); and many of my close friends are decent Christian individuals whom I love and respect.
Christians feel deeply that their way of life is the best possible. They feel their attitude toward the rest of the world is one of love. That's how I felt. I couldn't understand why people would be critical of Christianity unless they were inwardly motivated by "worldly" Satanic influences. I pretended to love all individuals while hating the "sin" that was in them, like Christ supposedly did. (We were taught that Christ was the most loving example.)
It was a mystery to me how anyone could be blind to the truths of the Gospel. After all, don't we all want love, peace, happiness, hope and meaning in life? Christ was the only answer, I believed, and I figured all nonChristians must be driven by other things, like greed, lust, evil pride, hate and jealousy. I took the media's caricature of the world's situation as evidence of that fact. For me to grow into one of those godless creatures was almost impossible, and I resisted all the way. (I have since discovered that ethics has nothing to do with religion, at least not in positive correlation.)
There was no specific turning point for me. I one day just realized that I was no longer a Christian, and a few months later I mustered the nerve to advertise that fact. That was last January, six months ago. Since then I have been bombarded by all my caring friends and relatives. I appreciate their concern and I sincerely wish to keep a dialogue open.
As an example, while I was typing this article I received a long distance call from a former Christian friend who had heard about my "defection." It is hard to handle calls like that. She was stunned, and I am certain that she is at this very moment in prayer for me, or calling others to join in prayer. I love this person, I respect her and do not wish to cause any undue harm. She told me that she had read an article I wrote to my local paper. (How it got to her area is a mystery.) I understand her concern and sympathize with her since I know exactly what she is thinking.
I was a preacher for many years, and I guess it hasn't all rubbed off. I would wish to influence others who may be struggling like I did--influence them to have the guts to think. To think deliberately and clearly. To take no fact without critical examination and to remain open to honest inquiry, wherever it leads.
© Copyright 1990 by Dan Barker. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not distribute copies of this chapter in this form.
I Just Lost Faith In Faith
A short version of Dan's story of deconversion to atheism, after 19 years of preaching.
"Losing Faith in Faith" talk
Listen to Dan's talk on June 27th 2001 at the Calkins Science Center, Grand Rapids Community College, Michigan. [1:14:00, mp3 29.6MB]
Reactions to Dan's announcement of atheism, after 19 years of preaching.
A challenge to traditional theists.
The Freewill Argument for the Nonexistence of God
This argument (FANG, for short) is one of the "incoherency" approaches Barker took against John Morehead in Sacramento (August 1996) and Douglas Wilson in Delaware (March 1997). If a religious term such as "god" or "spirit" cannot be defined meaningfully, then it is pointless to argue if it exists.
Debate: "Does God Exist?"
February 29, 2000 debate between Dan Barker and Phil Fernandes at Bellevue Community College (Washington). (MP3, 1:50, 12.6MB) (Video of debate available at ffrf.org/shop)
Debate: "Does God Not Exist?"
January 2003 debate between Dan Barker and Hassanain Rajabali at the Islamic Institute of New York.
Debate: "Evolution and Intelligent Design: What are the issues?"
Listen to a debate between Dan Barker and John Rankin, May 5, 2006, at the New Testament Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This is a general discussion between two non-scientists on the philosophical and theological implications of "Intelligent Design." (MP3, 2:15:50, 62.18MB)
The Debates Continue
An article about three of Dan's debates in early 1999.
Brief critique of C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.
Brief atheistic responses to theistic arguments.
World Religions Conference speech on the topic of "Salvation."
Debate: "Does Ethics Require God?"
Listen to the debate between Dan Barker and Peter Payne at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, March 14, 2005.
How to be moral without religion
Listen to Dan's talk at the University of Minnesota, October 19, 2006, sponsored by CASH (Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists):
Are the daily lives of Christians better than non-Christians? According to sociological surveys by a born-again pollster, they are actually worse than non-Christians.
Survey Reveals Polling Bias
Based on a careful sociological survey, Church attendance reports are found to be exaggerated. Though 40% of Americans regularly claim to attend church weekly, less than 20% actually show up in the pews.
What Is A Freethinker?
What is freethought, and how do freethinkers think?
Evangelistic Atheism: Leading Believers Astray
Advice to freethinkers on how to talk with a believer.
A November 2002 radio interview with Dan Barker and a Christian host. (Click above to read it. Click here to listen to the interview in mp3 format.)
The Future of Religion
Dan's keynote speech at the "Humanity 3000 Seminar 4," August 22, 2003, sponsored by the Foundation For the Future.
Interview with UU-Infidels
Interviewed by Marilyn Westfall, Dan talks about unbelief in the Unitarian-Universalist fellowship. From Vol. 1, Issue 1, Spring 2004, of In Search of Reason, newsletter of the Unitarian Universalist Infidels. (offsite)
The Rising of the Women
Does the New Testament teach that women must be subservient to men?
Christian Terrorism in Oklahoma City
Why was Timothy McVeigh not called a "Christian Terrorist"?
Foundation Nontract Now "Classic" Literature
PalmPilot includes "Dear Believer" in its "classic" offerings.
Freethought and Prime-Time Television
"Is religion getting a fair shake on television? That question was addressed at a June UCLA conference in Santa Monica, California: 'Religion And Prime Time Television.' . . ."
Unbelievers and Prime Time Television
Chapter from Religion And Prime Time Television.
The Color Purple
Dan Barker and Steve Benson discuss religion with a Navajo Mormon.
Spring is the Reason for the Season
The natural origin of Easter.
Are the teachings and deeds of Jesus admirable?
A challenge to inerrantists, listing several biblical discrepancies.
Debate: "Is the Bible full of errors and deceit?"
Listen to a debate between Dan Barker and John C. Rankin, March 5, 2006.
Did Paul's Men Hear a Voice?
Examines one bible contradiction in detail: Acts 9:7 vs. Acts 22:9.
Debunking the historical Jesus
Did Jesus actually exist? (Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius, etc.)
What Would Jesus Say About Gay Rights?
"Pagan Pulpit" on Freethought Radio, August 12, 2006.
Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?
First appeared in Abuse Your Illusions: The Disinformation Guide To Media Mirages and Establishment Lies.
Debate: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?
Transcript of the 1996 debate between Dan Barker and Michael Horner at the University of Northern Iowa. Includes audience questions.
Brief write-up of a debate with Dinesh D'Souza at Harvard, April 2008. Examines D'Souza's claim that Galatians 3:28 supports universal equality. (Includes link to video of the debate.)
Leave No Stone Unturned
Points out some of the internal discrepancies in the resurrection story.
Donkeys & Dragons
The Genesis story is a fable because it contains a talking animal. Based on a debate with Dr. Walter Kaiser. This is a short version of "Serpentine Logic" (below).
The Genesis story is a fable because it contains a talking animal. Based on a debate with Dr. Walter Kaiser. A shorter version of this article is "Donkeys & Dragons" (above). Appeared in The Skeptical Review.
With Perfect Hatred
Challenges the often-heard Christian claim that the Bible teaches believers to "hate the sin but love the sinner."
Tithing for Dummies
Why are Christians told to tithe 10% to the church?
Is America a Christian Nation?
Briefly examines state/church separation, answering some of the questions about our secular nation.
Creationist Wolf in Cheap Clothing
If Bush truly wants to "expose people to different schools of thought," will he advocate teaching Darwinism in Sunday School? Shall we insert a chapter from Origin of the Species between Genesis 1 and 2? . . .
Peace On Earth?
December 2007: "The Freedom From Religion Foundation hears from a lot of people this time of year, especially when we complain about Nativity scenes on government property...."
Divided, We Stand
Post 9/11 and "United, We Stand," whatever happened to E Pluribus Unum?
It's All Showbiz
Ten Commandments markers are phony movie props.
"License to Kill"
[1994 article about Christian Science exemptions] ". . . In many states, children have died while the parents have been immune from child abuse or manslaughter charges. Some of the Christian Science children known to have died from easily treatable illnesses include . . ."
Brahms, the Freethinker
"Music Was his Religion." Johannes Brahms, the famous German composer, did not believe in a god.
The Forgotten Story of Luther Burbank
Famous horticulturalist Luther Burbank was a declared "infidel." His death in 1926 may have been hastened by the controversy over his views.
Irving Berlin the Agnostic: Patriotism Was His Religion
How many patriotic Americans, proudly singing "God Bless America," realize that the song they are intoning was written by a man who did not believe in God? Or that it was intended as an anti-war anthem? . . .
Yip Harburg: Secular Songwriter
The man who wrote "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "It's Only A Paper Moon," "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and hundreds of popular American songs was a freethinker who abhorred irrationality, war and discrimination.
Cole Porter Out of Both Closets?
"Two major motion pictures have been made about the life of American songwriter Cole Porter. . . The more recent 'De-Lovely' . . . opening with a frank (and refreshing) admission by Porter that he did not believe in a god."
Sagan's Billions & Billions
Tribute to atheist and scientist Carl Sagan
The Myth of Choice for Women Who Are Poor
by Anne Nicol Gaylor
Truly heart-rending stories of women seeking to gain control of their lives. Pregnant women who are poor, ill and disadvantaged continue to be denied the abortions they seek, indeed, plead for. Obviously, if a woman is too poor to afford an abortion, she is much too poor to afford a child, yet the pro-natalist mindset of her government ignores her pleas. Contains the entire text of "What Does The Bible Say About Abortion?" debunking religious opposition to abortion.
In addition to my personal cheers for the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation for its concern for women, I wish to acknowledge two decades of generous help from Prof. Robert West of the University of Wisconsin, a co-founder of the Women's Medical Fund, a volunteer charity assisting needy Wisconsin women in paying for abortions.
Thanks also to the Evjue Foundation, that liberal, charitable arm of Madison's evening newspaper, The Capital Times, for grant support over the years for the Women's Medical Fund.
A recent benefactor for the Women's Medical Fund has been Wisconsin NOW, which kindly shares the proceeds of its Pledge-A-Picket program with the Fund.
Special thanks are due Women's Medical Fund Board Members and long-time supporters: Kay Elwers, Hania W Ris, M.D., Annie Laurie Gaylor and Paul Gaylor.
The Women's Medical Fund especially is indebted to the hundreds of donors who have sent in their checks so faithfully for so many years on behalf of some of Wisconsin's neediest women. These are women whom donors and benefactors do not know and will never meet, but who join me in this thank you.
Anne Nicol Gaylor
Women's Medical Fund, Inc.
My favorite story—apocryphal, I'm sure—has to do with the intake procedure of a small mental hospital with many referrals and little space. In deciding if they could assist a prospective patient—if someone really needed help—hospital personnel had devised a unique test. The prospective patient was placed in a room, equipped only with a faucet with water running and a mop, and was left to cope. Those who mopped and kept mopping were institutionalized; those who coped by turning off the faucet passed the test.
The faucets are on all over our country and the mops futilely are being wielded. Burgeoning population, unbalanceable budgets and the multiplication of poverty are inescapable facts.
Yet pregnant women who are poor, ill and disadvantaged continue to be denied the abortions they seek, indeed, plead for. They are passing the sanity test; they are attempting to control their lives. Their government keeps mopping away.
In the United States today there probably is no arena of social service where the victimization of the poor is more apparent than in the treatment of women living in poverty who want and need abortions. Obviously, if a woman is too poor to afford an abortion, she is much too poor to afford a child. She becomes trapped in the welfare cycle. Denied the abortion she wants and needs, her own life will be changed irrevocably Her opportunity to be anything but a welfare mother may be gone forever.
An early abortion, up to 10 weeks gestation, costs about $250-$300. A typical delivery costs ten times that amount. If there are complications in childbirth, more apt to occur among low income women, the costs may be 40 times the cost of an abortion for a Caesarean section and its accompanying lengthier hospitalization. Children born to welfare families must be supported by the public, frequently to maturity, often for life.
To put costs in perspective, consider the woman living in poverty who is told the fetus she is carrying is abnormal—an undeveloped brain stem, for example, or intestines developing outside the body. In most of our states even gross fetal abnormality does not qualify the pregnant woman for an abortion. Hospitalization costs for two or three of these doomed infants can exceed the costs of paying for all the poor women needing abortions in a state for a whole year.
To deny any pregnant woman the abortion she seeks is morally unacceptable. It can be fiscal insanity as well.
Our country is at a saturation point. We not only are deeper in debt than we ever have been as a nation, we have more poor people than we ever have had. To deny the choice of abortion to women trying to control their reproductive lives is intolerable folly. It is discrimination; it is inhumane.
This booklet is my personal plea that women who are poor have the same opportunity to control their lives that women of means now have. I am trying through this booklet to make the truly heartrending stories that I have dealt with over and over again for so many years known to the general public, at least in some small way The myth of abortion-for-convenience needs to be put to rest. The pro-natalist mindset should be challenged.
The moral and legal right of any woman to control her own reproductive life must be affirmed.
Introduction to Activism
A quarter of a century ago, in the late 1960s, I became an abortion rights advocate.
As editor of a small, struggling suburban weekly, which I co-owned with my husband Paul, I wrote the first editorial ever written in Wisconsin in support of abortion law reform. It was somewhat tentative, urging that abortion be recognized as a legal and humane alternative in the exceptional cases of pregnancy from rape and incest or of the extreme youth of the pregnant girl. The editorial concluded: "Surely kindness and reason will one day be the yardstick in deciding the legality of abortion, and personal tragedies will not be compounded because of laws made long ago by ignorant men."
There were a couple of newspaper cancellations as a result of the editorial (presumably by "ignorant men"), but because the idea of legal abortion, or even a public discussion of abortion itself, was so new to most people in the community, the editorial was not taken very seriously In fact, to my surprise, most of the modest amount of feedback was positive, even admiring. I remember with pleasure one letter writer who sent a new subscription with the note that any business willing to go out on such a limb deserved his congratulations and support.
There was no organized opposition to legalizing abortion in Wisconsin at that time. The state legislature, dominated by Catholics, was still fighting over liberalizing the country's most archaic contraception law. So for the most part my editorial and subsequent writings on the subject of abortion simply were shrugged off by potential adversaries as bizarre ideas not worthy of response.
To keep the issue before our small public, I interviewed and featured in our paper a Unitarian clergyperson from out-of-state, "on loan" to a Madison congregation, who was an early activist in the Clergy Consultation Service for Problem Pregnancies, which at the time was active in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and his home city, Cleveland. What surprised me most about his story was the sheer numbers of women seeking abortions. In the first two weeks after the Cleveland counseling service was announced, three hundred women asked for help. The average weekly number after that was 100. This was my first real awareness of the scope of the problem—all those unplanned, unwanted pregnancies.
I decided in 1969 to test the professional waters and sent a survey form into adjacent Madison, Wisconsin to medical doctors, asking their opinions on legalizing abortion, and printing the results in the paper. Here again, the outcome was surprising. Of the 281 physicians responding, 243 wanted abortion law reform. Forty-one per cent favored complete legalization with the decision left to the woman and her doctor. Forty-five per cent wanted liberalization of the law, 12.6 per cent thought there should be no change, and three of the physicians favored a more restrictive law. Since Wisconsin law in 1969 allowed abortions only to save a woman's life, I could not help but wonder about that trio of misogynists.
At that time three or four states had liberalized their abortion laws with the focus on therapeutic abortions. Abortion law reform had been introduced in a dozen others. A Wisconsin bill, authored by Representative Lloyd Barbee, a black Milwaukee legislator, was in committee where it was destined to stay. We did a feature and photo of Rep. Barbee and his bill for the paper. Barbee recalled that when he first tried to introduce his bill in 1965 he had trouble even getting the Speaker of the Assembly to announce and read it, a requirement. Then, Barbee wryly noted, there was "a lot of snickering and tittering on the floor" in that conservative male milieu.
Late in 1969 I asked some professional people from Madison to be on the board of a Madison chapter of the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion. Several kind men and women agreed to lend their names. We were both an educational and a lobbying group, working for hearings on the abortion issue. I took a clipping service for Wisconsin papers, and every time abortion was mentioned I used the opportunity to get an educational letter off to the daily or weekly, finding new contacts. Speaking invitations came in and I was the first guest on many radio and television shows devoted to the abortion issue. Calls would flood in on this "new," controversial issue. I remember one small town where the hostess and I ended up just chatting with each other. Not a single call came through. I had this impression of listeners out there sitting in stunned paralysis at the very word abortion.
In 1970 we sold our weekly, and for the next decade I turned my attention to volunteer work, while my husband provided for us all.
A critical court decision was handed down in Milwaukee in 1970 where a physician had been arrested for doing an office abortion. The federal panel of three judges ruled that Wisconsin could not prosecute a physician for performing an early abortion, knocking out most of Wisconsin's old law. It was a propitious time for advocates to become visible with some eighty other challenges in state and federal courts across the country.
My most practical involvement as an activist came about through my membership in Zero Population Growth. California scientist Paul Ehrlich's message was sweeping the country I joined ZPG because of its position on women's issues, as well as my own conviction that the planet would be breeding itself into oblivion if pro-natalist policies continued.
Under the auspices of ZPG and with the help of a couple of friends, I started the ZPG Referral Service, placing an advertisement in the Madison dailies. The ZPG ad read: "Abortion is legal and available in Wisconsin. If your doctor won't help, contact the Zero Population Growth Referral Service." ZPG's post office box and my home phone number were included. The ad ran on August 12, 1970, and by the end of the month, I had taken 93 requests for help.
I referred women to Mexico, to some U.S. hospitals for therapeutic abortions and to New York City when those clinics became available. I had information for Japan and England as well as the Chicago underground, but unlike those who preceded me, in other referral services, I did not have to use it. Then in 1971 Dr. Alfred Kerman, a gynecologist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital, left his teaching post to open Madison's first clinic.
Our referral service had been picked up for listing in the new book Our Bodies, Our Selves as well as other publications, and my phone rang day and night. It was literally difficult to get out of the house on an errand—frequently I started for the door two or three times before making it. Only plutocrats had answering equipment in those days. Little did I suspect in fielding these early requests that I would speak with more than 40,000 women who needed help in the years ahead.
I kept notebooks with brief information about each caller and the disposition of the call. There were as many as three dozen requests in a 24-hour period. This kept up until well after Roe v Wade—until abortion became generally available in most states.
The flood of sad stories from women as old as 52 and as young as 11 has left me forever non-judgmental toward those faced with unwanted pregnancies. I continue to be impressed anew with women's patience and fortitude in overcoming odds and barriers that in their private worlds must loom up like the Rock of Gibraltar. My tolerance for antiabortionists—especially those thoughtless magpies led by male bullies and terrorists—has become zilch. Without the choice of abortion, women can not be free.
It is my fervent belief that if the American people knew of the tragedies that are occurring because of the cutoff of public funding for abortions, there would be public support to help them—indeed, there would be a public outcry insisting that they be helped.
Launching the Women's Medical Fund
Prior to the Roe v Wade decision, Prof. Robert West of the University of Wisconsin Chemistry Department, his wife Peggy and I were discussing a particularly sad situation where a very young, disadvantaged girl needed to go to New York. The Madison clinic could accept only about 100 patients a week, and as the only freestanding clinic between the east and west coasts it was receiving more than 1,000 calls a week. So unless someone made her appointment very, very promptly she just didn't get in the Madison clinic.
"We should start a fund," Bob said, "to help some of these women."
"Oh, Bob," I replied. "That fund would always be running out of money."
"But we'd help some," he persisted. And so, in 1972, the Women's Medical Fund was born and incorporated, and over the years has helped more than 5,000 women.
And, yes, it always does run out of money. No private fund possibly could meet the need; it is a public problem. But we were able to help thousands avoid personal tragedies.
We pooled some money and started asking friends. And I began my two decades of letter writing describing the requests that were coming in, the great need, and asking for contributions. When public funding started to pay for women on welfare in the mid-70's, the Fund was able to cut back, although, as we learned, there were many low-income women who did not qualify for public assistance.
Then the Hyde Amendment was passed with its dictum of no federal funds for abortion. Surprisingly, from a legal point of view, it was held constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. I had thought that if a state did not choose to pay for deliveries, then obviously it could refuse to pay for abortions, but I could not understand the legal rationale that precluded choice for those who were poor, for a less expensive, safer procedure. If abortion rights supporters had won this round, I think the antiabortionists would not have been encouraged to go on. Even zealots need a victory now and then, and their efforts up to that point had been repudiated in the courts. As a result of Hyde, there were to be no more abortions for the poorest women in most of our states, unless individual states decided to pay or help was available from private sources.
As Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote: ". . . for women eligible for Medicaid—poor women—denial of a Medicaid funded abortion is equivalent to denial of legal abortion altogether."
The Fund helps women who qualify for public medical assistance for the most part, although any tragic case is eligible to be considered. Believe me, you can be poor and not be on welfare! Referrals are made by social workers, teachers, counselors, probation officers, hospitals, doctors, nurses or clinic staff. Typically, clinics will give reduced rates to women on public assistance, so early abortion can be affordable. Usually, the total cost is $200-$250, and I urge the woman to find half the money she needs. If that's impossible, as it often is, I ask her to find something—even if it is just $25 or $35. An application is filled out for each woman helped and the check is made payable to the clinic or physician to be sure the money is used for the intended purpose. Although most of the money is given as a gift for the woman, a few offer to repay, with the Fund typically receiving $2,000 to $3,000 annually in paybacks.
The Fund is completely volunteer. There are no salaries, no rent, no overhead. Phone, postage and printing costs are contributed. The service simply follows me around, at my home or office. Since outside costs involve only minor fees to state agencies, bank charges and an annual audit, the charity is very "pure," with donors getting the best possible return for their contributions.
Bob West believes the Women's Medical Fund is the oldest continuously operating fund of its kind in the country Since there is so little publicity about private funds, and consequently so little communication on the subject, we're not sure. However, we did precede Roe v Wade and never quit.
After affluent, well-nourished Henry Hyde, a United States Congressperson from Illinois, succeeded in halting federal funding of abortions for needy women, that law, upheld by the United States Supreme Court, set into motion tragedies that occur every day. Women who are homeless, who are abused, battered, raped, or who have serious illnesses or are carrying defective fetuses no longer have the choice of abortion.
While a few states decided to appropriate state monies for the purpose of assisting needy women tragically or inappropriately pregnant, most of them did not, with the result that in much of the United States the pregnant woman who is poor is destined to reproduce, no matter how critical or deplorable her circumstances may be.
The reasons most poor women seek abortions are compelling, and their stories, for the most part, go untold. In my extensive counseling and referral experience, I have found the following are the most common reasons women ask for help in securing abortions.
The pregnant woman who is poor seeks abortion because she can not take care of herself and the children she has. Most of the pregnant women helped by the Women's Medical Fund have children—many with two or three, some with as many as 10. Another birth will draw the family deeper into poverty.
She is a battered woman. Battery is as common as ragweed, and anyone should understand that a woman who has just had her teeth loosened or requires stitches in her head because of battery does not want to produce that batterer's child.
She is pregnant from rape or incest. Although some states say they will pay for abortions for women on welfare when pregnancies result from rape or incest, in actual practice relatively few ever are paid for. The typical requirement that it is not adequate to report to a physician, or to a health department, but only to police, means most rape goes unreported. This is understandable. Many police departments still treat very badly those women reporting rape, and, even more intimidating, a woman who is afraid of her rapist, if he is known to her, is not going to tell police about him out of fear of retribution. Twelve and thirteen-year-old incest victims are not about to name "daddy" or "uncle" or their mother's new husband to police. Reporting requirements need to be changed. In Wisconsin where state monies are supposed to pay for abortion in instances of rape, incest and serious threat to the woman's health from a pre-existing medical condition, in all of 1992 only six abortions actually met the stringent reporting and eligibility requirements. It is simple for antiabortion bureaucrats to circumvent the intent of the law.
She is pregnant and ill. Although some states make provision for abortion payment for serious illness of the woman on welfare, here again in actual practice, few qualify. The Women's Medical Fund has paid, in part or in full, for abortions for women on welfare carrying the HIV virus, testing positive for tuberculosis, having serious gestational hypertension, recovering from major surgery, having repeated C-sections, even for a woman in a wheelchair.
She is carrying an abnormal fetus. This is not rare and includes spina bifida, Tay-Sachs, encephaly (brain not developing), Down syndrome, organs developing outside the body, intestines in the chest cavity and other abnormalities incompatible with life. Because of the Hyde Amendment, many very needy women have had to carry these pregnancies to term, at risk to themselves, producing an infant that will die at birth or soon after, or may suffer from a devastating, degenerative illness causing great anguish to the child and those around it. Even when everyone involved knows that continuing such a pregnancy can only result in tragedy, the dictum holds—there is no public funding for these women.
The pregnant woman abuses alcohol and/or drugs. In recent years the devastating results of fetal alcohol syndrome have been documented. Alcoholics and drug addicts are impossible parents at special risk of producing brain-damaged children. Here again are women unable to take care of themselves.
The pregnant woman is homeless. Increasingly, women are leaving big city ghettos, with their children, in search of safer lives in safer cities. Often they will call the Women's Medical Fund from some temporary shelter asking for help in securing an abortion.
The needy pregnant woman seeks abortion because her husband or partner is incarcerated or because she herself is in jail or prison.
It is a temptation for many people to shrug and blame the woman who is pregnant. "Why doesn't she just use birth control?" they ask, forgetting what an imperfect art that is. Condoms break, condoms slip, the pill—especially the low estrogen content pill—just does not work for all women. Birth control pills may fail if someone is put on an antibiotic, or changes pill prescriptions. Diaphragms, sponges, spermicides all have impressive failure rates. Our most effective birth control method, sterilization, is not available in all areas, especially in those communities "served" by Catholic hospitals. Even when available, there are waits and substantial red tape. A 19-year-old with four children, for example, does not qualify for a tubal ligation until she is 21.
It is quite common for middle class people to apply middle class values to women who are poor. You can't do it; it doesn't compute. You can not expect the woman who grows up in poverty, who may or may not have finished eighth grade, whose only role model is another welfare mother, to be scrupulous about sex, or using effective contraception. Just be glad she has the common sense to recognize that she will never improve her situation by having more children when she can not as yet support herself. She makes a very moral decision in opting for abortion, and she should have support—not roadblocks thrown in her way.
Who Are the Women?
(All names are fictitious)
"My five-year-old was suspended from kindergarten," 31-year-old Shelley Wood said, explaining the presence of her noisy child at home on a school day "He throws chairs around and hits the teacher and pushes the other children."
Shelley Wood is an alcoholic. She can't hold a job. In the past she has worked as a cleaning woman, a laundress and an unskilled worker on an assembly line in a shirt factory She would like to be a nursing assistant, but has lived the past few years on public assistance. Her children, all of whom have different fathers, are 9, 5, and 1.
Her current pregnancy is by a married man who has beaten her "three or four times."
The father of her year-old child was on drugs and supporting his cocaine habit by stealing—strongarm theft and burglary. He is now in prison, a 13-year sentence. The whereabouts of the fathers of the two older children are unknown; Shelley has never received any child support or moral support from the men who impregnated her.
Shelley was arrested recently. She described it: "Me and a friend were sitting around drinking beer, and my friend said she'd like some more, and I said I would pay for it if she would go and get it. So I gave her $20 and told her to bring me the change. Well, she went to get the beer, but she didn't come back. She spent my money on crack. And when I went to ask her where my money was, she pulled a knife and I got cut. I hit her two or three times. I was charged with battery, but they changed it to disorderly conduct."
The "friend" also is an alcoholic, as well as a hard drug user. She is 28 with three children, who are being taken care of by their grandmother.
Originally, Shelley's sister was going to help her pay for an abortion, but she had not paid a utility bill and "her lights were turned off and she had to use her money for that."
Shelley's abortion cost $250. Shelley found $50 and the Women's Medical Fund paid $200.
And the suspended kindergartner? He probably was damaged by his mother's alcoholism, to say nothing of his family's way of life. Shelley's year-old baby, as the offspring of an alcoholic mother and a cocaine addicted father, also is damaged.
Unlike many of the women helped by the Women's Medical Fund, Shelley has a high school education. She says she does not use drugs. If she could control her drinking and her fertility, her life probably is salvageable.
But what of the children?
And suppose Shelley had had to carry this pregnancy to term. What of the terrible cost—social and economic—to her, to the children she has, to society?
'Take it away, I don't want it, I don't want no baby!"
Vicki Clark, 15, is one of seven children, the "baby" of her family. As a seventh grader, she had a baby at age 13.
That baby came as "something of a surprise," according to Vicki's mother.
"We knew Vicki had been raped," her mother said, "but the test was negative. A couple of boys followed her and a classmate home from school. But the girls told me about the rape, and we reported it to the police and took her to the sexual assault clinic and to the doctor. She was terribly upset, but she had all the tests and they were negative."
Vicki is no stranger to doctors. Born with a bone displacement, she has had six painful surgeries over the years, with accompanying skin grafts, starting at age 4. But despite her office visits, no one picked up on the pregnancy.
"She was so young," her mother explained.
Vicki was afraid after the rape.
"She was afraid to go to school, so I walked with her every day, all the time. She would never go by herself. Then one day my daughter at home called me and said, 'Mama, Vicki is in a lot of pain.' So we took her to the hospital thinking maybe it was an infection, and they said, 'She's in labor!'"
Vicki scarcely realized what was happening, her mother said. After the birth all she would do was cry.
"When they showed her the baby she cried, 'take it away, I don't want it, I don't want no baby!'"
Vicki and her mother would have preferred that the baby be released for adoption, but Vicki's maternal grandmother persuaded them to take it home. As a baby of color as well as the product of rape, its chances for adoption were negligible. The grandmother thought it would be doomed to institutional care or a series of foster homes. Vicki accepted that the baby would be around, but has shown no attachment to it. Her mother is its caregiver.
Two years after the birth of her "rape-baby," Vicki, now a 15-year-old ninth grader, got pregnant again. The boy, also a student, was using a condom, Vicki said, and she told her mother immediately after her missed period, asking for an abortion.
"I just didn't know what we would ever do," her mother said. "I didn't know where to turn." Public medical assistance, which pays for medical care for the needy, including delivery, does not cover abortion in Wisconsin, as is true in three-fourths of our states. There was no help to be had from the boy involved, or from his family.
Vicki's exhausted mother, a single parent, was "at my wit's end." An older sister of Vicki's, who had lived away from home for several years, had become "strung out on drugs" and her three children had nowhere to go except to their grandmother.
When Vicki's mother phoned the Women's Medical Fund for help, she summarized her family's situation: "I have Vicki who is pregnant, and I have Vicki's baby, just two years old. And I am taking care of another grandchild who is handicapped—kind of like retarded. Then there is my daughter on drugs—her children are with me and they are 9, 6 and 5. I just can't take any more children."
So Vicki had her early abortion for $220, a reduced rate. Her mother paid $100; the Women's Medical Fund paid $120.
It was discovered that Vicki had syphilis for which she is being treated. She also is scheduled for Norplant, which, if tolerable, should give her protection against pregnancy for four or five years. Her tests for HIV are negative.
Vicki is relieved that the pregnancy is over, her mother reported. "She had really gotten very low before the abortion. She was sick from being pregnant and more out of school than in school. Things are better now."
"The children are not thriving."
Twenty-year-old Dorothy Miller came to Wisconsin from somewhere in the south. She brought her four children. Intellectually slow, she is tiny and thin. She has only an eighth grade education and became pregnant at age 15. She had two children by the same man, a girl and a boy.
Then she married, and two more children followed quickly, just a year apart. That man deserted her and the children, so she came to Wisconsin where a brother lived.
She was enrolled for public assistance, and in a short time two of the children were taken from her and placed in foster care. The youngest weighed the same at four months as it had at birth. "The children are not thriving," her social worker said. When the Women's Medical Fund was contacted on Dorothy's behalf, her children were 4, 3, 21 months and 11 months and Dorothy was pregnant again.
What will happen to Dorothy? She was able to get an abortion with the help of the Women's Medical Fund, but what does her future hold? Probably she will get pregnant again. She would consider a tubal ligation, but there is no way to pay for one. Public medical assistance, which pays for childbirth, will not cover a tubal until the woman is 21. Then, frequently there is little support for her decision; often there is active opposition. And there are delays in scheduling. Over and over again women get pregnant while waiting for their tubal appointment.
What will happen to Dorothy's children? Probably they will spend some more time in foster care, and then go back to their mother who can not really care for herself. Then it will be back to different foster homes. The script is written. And how will children, who have so many strikes against them, be able to develop, to learn, to compete. They are society's throwaway children, who do not even have the questionable stability of an extended family.
"They told me I wouldn't get pregnant"
Debbie Moore, 22, has a deformed uterus. "They told me I wouldn't get pregnant," she said. But Debby, a high school dropout who is unemployed, did conceive. On a prenatal visit she discovered that the fetus she was carrying was not developing normally.
The medical scan showed a grossly abnormal fetus with a body wall defect, a mass on the abdomen, and defective bone structure including a badly arched spine.
Although Debby was enrolled for public medical assistance which covered her prenatal care and would have covered a delivery, by legislative fiat it would not cover an abortion, even for this tragic, genetic problem.
The Women's Medical Fund paid a $250 down payment to get Debby admitted to a hospital where the second trimester abortion was performed. Debby will be responsible for the remainder of her $2,000 hospital bill.
"I was trying to get a relationship"
Rita Werner came from Mississippi to Wisconsin nine years ago to help her sick "auntie" with her huge family. Her aunt died of a heart attack at age 37, leaving 14 children. Rita stayed on in Wisconsin, had two children, got her high school diploma and was studying accounting when she became pregnant again. "I knowed this man for like six months," she said. "I was trying to get a relationship. But when I told him I was pregnant he jumped on me and beat me. I was bleeding pretty bad, and they took me to the hospital and put eight stitches in my head." There is a restraining order out on Rita's batterer. She got her abortion with the help of the Women's Medical Fund.
A problem with religion
Marie Douglas is the 26-year-old mother of five children. They are 11, 8, 5, 2 and 7 months old. All were born by Caesarean section. There are three different fathers, none of whom helps with the children.
Marie wanted a tubal ligation at the time of the birth of her last child, but she was in the clutches of a Catholic hospital and Catholic physician. The Women's Medical Fund paid the full cost of her abortion and has encouraged her to change her medical providers—not necessarily simple to do—so that she can get the tubal she wants and desperately needs.
Wisconsin has always taken better care of its cows than its women. Can you imagine a farmer forcing a cow to have repeated surgeries! Lack of access to sterilization is a real problem in rural and small town communities where the only hospital is controlled by Catholics.
A doomed woman
At age 30 Meg Martin is the mother of four children, 13, 12, 9 and 5. She receives public assistance due to mental illness. She is of low intelligence and was a drug user. In 1989 she was diagnosed as HIV positive. Her children have been taken from her. Three are in foster care, and the fourth, her little boy, is institutionalized. He was badly beaten by his father and is blind and deaf as a result, essentially a vegetable.
Who, possessing a modicum of good will or common sense, would want this doomed woman to be forced to reproduce?
"He came in through the window"
Celia Johnston is 18 years old. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Her children are three and nine months of age. Her three-year-old's father left when his daughter was born. The father of the nine-month-old has become violent, and she has asked that he stay away. He recently beat her outside her home and left her with face and arm bruises.
Two months before she contacted the Women's Medical Fund, the violent boy friend appeared again, breaking into her apartment at night and raping her.
"I had a first floor apartment, and he came in through the bathroom window. I couldn't get him to leave. He said he was staying for good. My son was there and scared and crying, and I told him to go back to bed. And then I was raped."
Celia went to a battered woman's shelter, where she reported the rape. The major cost of her abortion was paid by the Women's Medical Fund.
"I don't need no more kids"
Vera Lacey is 31 with four living children, 5, 3, 2 and 2 months of age. The children have two fathers, neither of whom is around any more. Vera was using a low estrogen content birth control pill and got pregnant anyway. This is her seventh pregnancy. All of her pregnancies have been difficult because she suffers from gestational hypertension requiring medication.
Her first two pregnancies ended in stillbirths with malformed infants. One living daughter has Urb's Palsy—"She got stuck on the pelvic bone," Vera said. It is a permanent injury with one arm longer than the other. Another child has a shoulder problem and her two-month-old was born with a fractured chest. Vera recognizes she should not be pregnant again. She is eager to have a tubal and protests the waits, interviews and red tape. "Whatever I have to do, I'll do it," she said. "I can't count on the pill working for me, and I probably shouldn't be taking it anyway I don't need no more kids."
The Women's Medical Fund was able to help Vera, but her medical problem is an example of the kind of condition one would assume would be covered for therapeutic abortion under a public medical assistance program, but is not. Multiply her plight by the hundreds, if not thousands, to get an idea of what is going on in medical care for the pregnant poor in most of our states.
All health insurance should cover abortion
Shirley Kemp is a 24-year-old housewife with children 5 and 3. Her unplanned pregnancy was financially troubling, but with her husband's steady, blue-collar job, they thought they could manage. Then, in her fifth month of pregnancy, she was informed of a neuro-tube defect, a diagnosis of fetal spina bifida.
The insurance her husband's company provided would cover delivery, but not a therapeutic abortion, even in this instance of a grossly abnormal fetus.
Like most young couples, the Kemps live from paycheck to paycheck. Medical emergencies, they had assumed, would be covered by insurance. Nowhere could they find the $1,000 for a late clinic abortion to say nothing of the $2,500 a hospital was quoting.
With a gift of $300 from the Women's Medical Fund as a down payment, they agreed to make monthly payments to the physician who performed the 19-week abortion.
Here again, insurers and government agencies failed the needs of women and their families. All health insurance should cover abortions, elective or therapeutic. But the fiscal folly of refusing to pay for an abortion when delivery will result in a grossly abnormal infant and much higher hospital costs simply must be recognized. Pregnancy is difficult enough when a woman is carrying a healthy fetus and can expect a normal outcome. The psychological and physical damage to a woman who is forced to complete a doomed pregnancy is immeasureable.
Ann Fischer, a sweet-voiced welfare mother of two children, contracted syphilis from her boyfriend. In a visit to a clinic to be treated for the disease, she learned she also had contracted the HIV virus. She was not aware of her partner's drug use, and only since their breakup knew that he was "messing around."
Now in her second trimester of pregnancy, she has developed anemia. But her abortion can not be paid for with public funds because the male bureaucrats who administer the programs for the poor have decided that only those who are "AIDS-symptomatic" may have an abortion paid for.
Ann's abortion was paid for in part by the Women's Medical Fund. In a case such as hers where the pregnant woman tests positive for HIV but has a normal T-cell count, the callous bureaucrats defend their refusal to help by quoting the statistic that there is "only a 30% chance" of the fetus being infected. Thirty per cent may not be high odds in some frivolous undertaking, but it is rather awe-inspiring when we are talking about AIDS. Even if a future AIDS-doomed child is not created, what is created is an orphan, and it is done at the expense of the health of the woman whose AIDS-onset may well be accelerated because of the physical stress of pregnancy.
Wouldn't you think it would occur to the bureaucrats that you are not going to contain an epidemic by creating new victims?
"I would have no place to go"
The antiabortionists are pushing for parental consent in all our states, because of the chilling effect. The teenager on bad terms with her parents is simply not going to take them on.
Andrea, 14: "My mom had me when she was 15. She is always telling me not to make her mistake. She told me if I did she would kick me out. I would have to leave home, and I would have no place to go. My stepfather has lived with us for eight years, but he only married my mother a year ago. We don't get along. This would make things worse in every way."
Tara, 16: "What would happen if I told my parents. I would get in a lot of trouble. I'm not sure what would happen, and I don't want to find out. I was told last summer that I would get put out in the street if I got pregnant."
Tanya, 14: "What would my mother say? She'd whup my little black ass. There are five of us kids at home, and I already have a seven-month-old baby."
Very Bad Soap Opera
Irene Sorensen's life story reads like a very bad soap opera. At 31, she has had two husbands and a live-in partner. They have left her with seven children.
Irene only completed ninth grade. "I got in with the wrong crowd," she explained. "The first time I got pregnant I wasn't living at home, but staying at a friend's house. I was just 16. We got married, but he was an alcoholic, very abusive. My second husband turned out to be a drug dealer—he was a big hood in this area. His visiting rights were taken away when he hurt the kids, swinging a baseball bat, and slamming our son in the car door."
The live-in partner, responsible for her currrent pregnancy, was also violent. "I finally got a restraining order and he was arrested. He was doing things like breaking windows trying to get in the house, and once he threw a knife into the front door. He even wrote in blood on the porch."
Think of the terror children of these alliances must experience with abuse, alcohol, drugs and violence a part of their daily lives. How do you wipe out memories of a father swinging a baseball bat at you or shutting you in a car door, or breaking windows to get into your house?
Antiabortionists and bureaucrats would deny abortion to a woman like Irene who is making a decision moral for her, moral for the family she has, moral for society. Her seven children are 14, 12, 11, 8, 6, 5 and 3 months. Clearly she does not need any more children!
A very large share of the blame for social problems in the United States rests with our federal and state governments which literally force the pregnant poor to remain pregnant. Irene said she was using a spermicide; obviously, like so many contraceptives, it failed. All methods do fail; the backup of abortion to prevent unwanted births is critical.
Right now, all over the land, poor women in urban slums, in small towns, in rural areas are carrying through pregnancies they do not want, that they cannot cope with, that they would have ended had medical assistance been available to them. What is the harvest of this blind, pro-natalist government policy? It means, in the cases of drug and alcohol abuse, that babies will be born damaged. Others will be born to neglect and abuse, unable to compete in school and in life. How can such children not feel hopelessness and rage? All children need someone to love and respect them.
The Women's Medical Fund paid for $120 of the cost of Irene's abortion. She borrowed $55 with the total cost reduced to $175. All of us can be glad that Irene did not have to have unwanted child number eight.
The stories of women in these pages are not "worst case scenarios." They are typical; they are women recently helped by the Women's Medical Fund. They are not even the most poignant stories. For me, the saddest recent case was that of the pregnant 13-year-old girl, "a good student," who was living in a crack house with her drug addict mother and her baby sister. Stories of the worn-out mothers of huge families could fill pages—a recent example is the 35-year-old mother of ten children: 18, 16, 14, 11, 9, 6, 5, 3, 2 and 10 months. And then there is the pregnant woman whose address is the county jail.
Compassion demands that these women be helped, that our antiabortion policies be changed for the good of women, of their families and of us all.
A common question asked of the Women's Medical Fund is "Where do you get the money to help these women?"
My answer, "We beg!" No public monies, of course, are available for this women's cause, so three times a year I send letters to our list of donors—dozens of whom have been with us since the Fund was launched.
Letters go out on the anniversary of Roe v Wade, January 22; on Mother's Day, in celebration of motherhood by choice not force; and, on the anniversary of women's right to vote, August 26. That last seems especially appropriate since the right to vote and other women's rights, such as equal pay, do not mean very much if you're having a baby every year.
Women's Medical Fund, Inc.
P.O. Box 248, Madison,WI 53701 Telephone (608) 256-8900
April 25, 1992
Dear Friend of Women,
Help, help, help!
Our Mother's Day appeal has turned into a pre-Mother's Day appeal because of the great need. The Women's Medical Fund is totally out of money, and the sad, sad stories keep pouring in. Today I agreed to help, out of future income, an Asian woman who thinks she is 14 (birthdays aren't important in her culture). She has two children, both born in 1991: one in January and one in December. She shares a two-bedroom apartment with other family members—there are eight children being cared for in that small space. She is "married," according to her culture, but of course not old enough to be legally married in Wisconsin. The social worker described her as a "bright girl who wants to finish school." She is having Norplant; hope it works.
I just turned away a woman with five children. She is in her second trimester of pregnancy, and the amount she needs is just too great. She is 26; the kids are 10, 8, 7, 5 and 2. When I asked why she had never considered a tubal, she said she had lost her personal medical coverage because of some support money for one of the children. She said she had been stabbed with a knife by the girl friend of one of the children's fathers when she took him to court. It looks like child number six will be born into this ghastly situation.
The Fund will be helping, from future donations, a married woman with seven children who comes from a heavily Catholic community The kids are 15, 14, 12, 9, 6, 4 and 2. She promised to have a tubal; she has public medical assistance. She wanted it at her last delivery, but you know Catholic hospitals. She will go elsewhere for the tubal.
We've agreed this week to help a couple of teenagers whose boyfriends are in jail—I hear that so often when I ask, "Can the man involved help you?" Even when he's not in jail, he rarely will help, or can help. Many times I hear, "He told me he wants me to stay pregnant. He wants a boy" Another familiar story is the girl or woman who calls in tears and says, "He promised to bring me some money last night and my appointment is today and he never showed up." Or, famous out, "he says it's not his."
Also to be helped out of new funds is a 14-year-old with a 13-month-old baby. Her parents are newly separated and she has attempted suicide in the past. "If her family knew she was pregnant again, this would cause total havoc," the social worker said. So much for parental consent!
The stories of rape victims ring in my mind. This week a 31-year old Milwaukee woman said, "I was walking home at night, and he was waiting. He dragged me between two boarded-up houses. After the rape I ran. I did not look back." She said she was raped in Feburary and tested positive for HIV last week. The great state of Wisconsin will not pay for abortions performed because of rape unless the rape was reported to police. It does not pay at all for HIV carriers. The state loves to point out that there is "only" a 30% chance that a woman like this will have an HIV baby. A shameless, senseless, anti-woman policy.
We will be helping an epileptic who has had seizures since she was five, poor woman. She is on heavy medication, and she's a recovering alcoholic. She has one child.
Another mother of seven we have offered to help is on probation for beating her children.
This letter is a tiny sampling of requests received this week. Since January 1, 1992 we have paid for, in part or in full, for abortions for 154 women. Last year the Women's Medical Fund, thanks to all of you, paid for about 500 women—we could have helped thousands had there been the funds.
For those of you who are newcomers to the Fund, the typical check written for a woman is between $100 and $200. If she has a Medical Card under public assistance, most women can get an early abortion for about $200 total. It remains one of the few "bargains" in the U.S. health industry. Most women can find some money, and the Fund's participation makes the abortion possible.
The Fund is now, as it has always been, completely volunteer with bank charges, small fees to state agencies and an annual audit its only outside expenses. Your gift is not diluted by salaries, rent or overhead. And it is helping some of the neediest women in Wisconsin.
If you are a monthly donor or give through NOW's Pledge-A-Picket program, please take a low bow and pass this appeal along to a friend. If you can help at this time, please do so now. Your gift makes possible motherhood by choice, not force. Gifts are deductible for income tax purposes. And thank you all very much.
Testimony given by Anne Nicol Gaylor at the abortion hearing of the Judiciary Committee, Wisconsin Assembly, May 25, 1971. The clinic referred to in the testimony reopened by federal court order a short time later.
What happens when an abortion clinic closes? When Dane County District Attorney Gerald Nichol ruthlessly closed Madison's Midwest Medical Center on April 19,1971, he set into motion a chain of tragic events whose total effect may never be known. Lawmakers, so prone to investigate everything, could be investigating these tragedies, but of course they are not. At least they can listen; they can listen to what happened to one Wisconsin girl.
This girl had an appointment at the Midwest Medical Center the week it was closed. She and her boyfriend had read about the clinic in their local papers, and although they had only a little money they were able to arrange an appointment for a partial fee. When the clinic was raided, they were all but paralyzed, because they had no knowledge of where else to turn. At first they procrastinated, then the boy made several calls to hospitals and doctors, but they were all abrupt with him. Those who talked to him at all talked about the high cost of a hospital abortion, the need for parental consent, the legal uncertainties. They suggested no other alternatives of places to go and the young couple's despair deepened.
The boy and girl had come to each other from backgrounds of parental rejection; the girl had run away from her home. They had both been hurt, they had been unhappy in their home life. In each other they seemed to find some measure of security and acceptance, of uncritical love, something they had never had.
Although the boy had no thought of abandoning the girl, she became terribly depressed. She could only think that each day she was getting farther and farther along into this unwanted pregnancy, and what a terrible burden she was becoming to the boy. He was the only one she had to cling to and she was afraid. So one night, without the boy's knowledge, she took a last desperate way out of her problem. She took a wire coat hanger and jabbed it into her uterus. Toward morning, when the pain became too much to bear, she told the boy what she had done and he went to get help for her.
Now because he was very young and frightened, he did not call the logical people to call in an emergency—a doctor or a hospital. You will remember they had rejected him before. He did not call the police because he actually feared he and his girl would be arrested. He phoned collect to a clergyman in a town a hundred miles away, who was the only person he felt he could trust, and this man put him in touch with a counselor in his own city.
The counselor came out and convinced the boy that his fears of legal retribution were overblown, and that the girl was in very serious condition. She helped him take her to a hospital.
But they were too late. The girl had punctured her uterus with the hanger, she had bled excessively, and she died in the hospital a few hours later.
Last night I talked to the counselor who was with the girl when she died, and she asked me to convey a message to you. Tell the legislators, she said, that it is a terrible thing to watch a young girl die, and to know that her death was unnecessary, a total waste. Tell them how terrible it is that anyone should have to lose her life because of fear, because everyone who could help her was too intimidated by our unjust law to give her the help she needed. Let them know about this girl's family, who last saw her warm and alive and now will see her always as something dead, to be carried out and disposed of. Tell them about this boy who had to be physically restrained from destroying himself when he realized his girl was dying. Don't let them sit there and debate abortion, without knowing the tragedies, that occur when abortion is not available. Let them know about this girl—one girl's death is one too many. . . .
Wisconsin women are going to have abortions. If they have enough money they are going to travel to states where it is available. If they do not, they are going to seek out the incompetent, unsafe abortionists, or attempt to abort themselves.
This legislature cannot stop the tide of abortion reform or the acceptance by women of abortion. You can only succeed in making it dangerous or inconvenient or expensive for them. In the cases where you are able to make it impossible to get, you will be adding the burden, both social and financial, of unwanted children to our state.
Women are going to be free. They are going to determine their reproductive lives as they wish; this is the essence of dignity and personal freedom. No one can know better than a woman herself whether it is best for her to bear a child. In a world that cannot possibly take care of the children it already has, what folly to force unwilling women to bear unwanted children.
Abortion is going to be legalized in Wisconsin. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Humane men and women will work to legalize it now, so that women's suffering and death may be avoided.
What Does The Bible Say About Abortion?
Absolutely nothing! The word "abortion" does not appear in any translation of the bible!
Out of more than 600 laws of Moses, none comments on abortion. One Mosaic law about miscarriage specifically contradicts the claim that the bible is antiabortion, clearly stating that miscarriage does not involve the death of a human being. If a woman has a miscarriage as the result of a fight, the man who caused it should be fined. If the woman dies, however, the culprit must be killed:
"If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
"And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth . . ."--Ex. 21:22-25
The bible orders the death penalty for murder of a human being, but not for the expulsion of a fetus.
When Does Life Begin?
According to the bible, life begins at birth--when a baby draws its first breath. The bible defines life as "breath" in several significant passages, including the story of Adam's creation in Genesis 2:7, when God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Jewish law traditionally considers that personhood begins at birth.
Desperate for a biblical basis for their beliefs, some antiabortionists cite obscure passages, usually metaphors or poetic phrasing, such as: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5 This is sexist, but does nothing other than to invoke original sin. It says nothing about abortion.
The Commandments, Moses, Jesus and Paul ignored every chance to condemn abortion. If abortion was an important concern, why didn't the bible say so?
Thou Shalt Not Kill?
Many antiabortionists quote the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13) as evidence that the bible is antiabortion. They fail to investigate the bible's definition of life (breath) or its deafening silence on abortion. Moreover, the Mosaic law in Exodus 21:22-25, directly following the Ten Commandments, makes it clear that an embryo or fetus is not a human being.
An honest reader must admit that the bible contradicts itself. "Thou shalt not kill" did not apply to many living, breathing human beings, including children, who are routinely massacred in the bible. The Mosaic law orders "Thou shalt kill" people for committing such "crimes" as cursing one's father or mother (Ex. 21:17), for being a "stubborn son" (Deut. 21:18-21), for being a homosexual (Lev. 20:13), or even for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-35)! Far from protecting the sanctity of life, the bible promotes capital punishment for conduct which no civilized person or nation would regard as criminal.
Mass killings were routinely ordered, committed or approved by the God of the bible. One typical example is Numbers 25:4-9, when the Lord casually orders Moses to massacre 24,000 Israelites: "Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun." Clearly, the bible is not pro-life!
Most scholars and translators agree that the injunction against killing forbade only the murder of (already born) Hebrews. It was open season on everyone else, including children, pregnant women and newborn babies.
Does God Kill Babies?
"Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."--Psalm 137:9
The bible is not pro-child. Why did God set a bear upon 42 children just for teasing a prophet (2 Kings 2:23-24)? Far from demonstrating a "pro-life" attitude, the bible decimates innocent babies and pregnant women in passage after gory passage, starting with the flood and the wanton destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, progressing to the murder of the firstborn child of every household in Egypt (Ex. 12:29), and the New Testament threats of annihilation.
Space permits only a small sampling of biblical commandments or threats to kill children:
- Numbers 31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones.
- Deuteronomy 2:34 utterly destroyed the men and the women and the little ones.
- Deuteronomy 28:53 And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters.
- I Samuel 15:3 slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
- 2 Kings 8:12 dash their children, and rip up their women with child.
- 2 Kings 15:16 all the women therein that were with child he ripped up.
- Isaiah 13:16 Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.
- Isaiah 13:18 They shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.
- Lamentations 2:20 Shall the women eat their fruit, and children.
- Ezekiel 9:6 Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children.
- Hosea 9:14 give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
- Hosea 13:16 their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
Then there are the dire warnings of Jesus in the New Testament:
"For, behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the womb that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck."--Luke 23:29
The teachings and contradictions of the bible show that antiabortionists do not have a "scriptural base" for their claim that their deity is "pro-life." Spontaneous abortions occur far more often than medical abortions. Gynecology textbooks conservatively cite a 15% miscarriage rate, with one medical study finding a spontaneous abortion rate of almost 90% in very early pregnancy. That would make a deity in charge of nature the greatest abortionist in history!
Are Bible Teachings Kind to Women?
The bible is neither antiabortion nor pro-life, but does provide a biblical basis for the real motivation behind the antiabortion religious crusade: hatred of women. The bible is anti-woman, blaming women for sin, demanding subservience, mandating a slave/master relationship to men, and demonstrating contempt and lack of compassion:
"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."--Genesis 3:16
What self-respecting woman today would submit willingly to such tyranny?
The antiabortion position does not demonstrate love for humanity, or compassion for real human beings. Worldwatch Institute statistics show that 50% of abortions worldwide are illegal, and that at least 200,000 women die every year--and thousands more are hurt and maimed--from illegal or self-induced abortions. Unwanted pregnancies and complications from multiple pregnancies are a leading killer of women. Why do antiabortionists want North American women to join these ghastly mortality statistics? Every day around the world more than 40,000 people, mostly children, die from starvation or malnutrition. We must protect and cherish the right to life of the already-born.
Do Churches Support Abortion Rights?
Numerous Christian denominations and religious groups agree that the bible does not condemn abortion and that abortion should continue to be legal. These include:
American Baptist Churches-USA
American Ethical Union
American Friends (Quaker) Service Committee
American Jewish Congress
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lutheran Women's Caucus
Moravian Church in America-Northern Province
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church
United Synagogue of America
Women's Caucus Church of the Brethren
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Catholics for Free Choice
Evangelicals for Choice
Belief that "a human being exists at conception" is a matter of faith, not fact. Legislating antiabortion faith would be as immoral and unAmerican as passing a law that all citizens must attend Catholic mass!
The bible does not condemn abortion; but even if it did, we live under a secular constitution, not in a theocracy. The separation of church and state, the right to privacy, and women's rights all demand freedom of choice.
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.
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.
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.
Appleton Post Crescent
Nancy Heinberg, Capital Times
Family of the Year
James and Caroline Greenwald and daughters Elaine and Geraldine
Those honored in 1973:
Rep. Lloyd Barbee
Whitney Gould, Capital Times
Ron Carbon, WMFM
Family of the Year
Robert and Nancy Staigmiller and sons
Those honored in 1974:
Herbert Sandmire, M.D.
Rev. Elinor Yeo
Family of the Year
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.
What You Can Do
HERE 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.
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.
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....
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....
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.
THE ANTIABORTIONISTS like to proclaim that theirs is an ecumenical movement, and not predominantly Catholic. Although statistics on the composition of their various groups are not public information, anyone who reads their literature, subscribes to their national newspaper, or attends one of their state or national gatherings cannot avoid the impression that Catholics are running the show. At one meeting of a Wisconsin group, the members spent an hour discussing whether they should identify themselves as Catholics in the letters they wrote to newspapers. Opinion was sharply divided on divulgence of this important information, not because there were non-Catholics present but because one faction thought it bad P.R. to be identified as Catholics, while the other argued that being Catholic is "nothing to be ashamed of."
Whether or not the Catholic composition of the antiabortion movement is in doubt, one fact is not, and that is that the resistance to giving women the right to choose abortion is religious. When you scan lists of groups opposing abortion, you find all of them are religious in nature.
Organized religion has done great harm to women. The pervading put-down of women detectable throughout the Bible, the myth of Eve's sin, the ludicrousness of a virgin birth (as though there really were something wrong with ordinary sex)--all this has damaged women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for women's equality in, the nineteenth century, said forthrightly: "The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women's emancipation." Another of her statements that has been widely quoted strikes a responsive chord with those exposed as children to dogmatic religions: "The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion."
The desire of so many clergymen to keep women subservient, dependent, voiceless, is in itself an appalling commentary on both religion and male supremacy. Man has stood for so long with one foot on woman's neck that he finds he cannot stand up any other way. The posture is crippling.
Ostensibly we are a country devoted to the principle of separation of church and state, a principle that is germane to any discussion of abortion, because the conflict surrounding abortion is a conflict of the various beliefs on the beginning of life. There are obviously many beliefs about when life begins. Some people believe life starts at conception, others that life is present before conception and exists in the sperm and the egg. Some people believe life starts with movement of the fetus; the dictionary defines "quickening" as "to come alive." Others believe life starts with viability (capability of the fetus for independent survival). Still others think it starts with birth. One of the reasons abortion was so readily accepted by the Japanese was because the Shinto religion defines life as starting at birth.
Now, in a country which says church and state are separate, there should be room for all religious beliefs, particularly in areas of private concern where the public interest is not in question. The woman who believes life starts with conception should be free to carry through her prenancy, just as the woman who believes life starts with quickening should be free to terminate her pregnancy.
But with no abortion laws, say opponents, women will be asking for abortions at eight and a half months. Not so. A woman who does not want to be pregnant does not want to stay pregnant a day longer than she has to. Women who want abortions want them early, the earlier the better. Many choose menstrual extraction when it is available, opting for the procedure even before a urine test to confirm their pregnancy is valid. Fewer and fewer women are seeking abortions after three months, as early abortion becomes more readily available to them. The longer the antiabortionists continue to fight legal abortion, the longer there will continue to be late abortions, because it is lack of access to abortion that results in late abortion in many cases . Almost the only women asking for second trimester (four to six month inclusive) abortions, in areas where abortion can be found easily, are teen-agers who have been afraid to tell anyone they are pregnant, women with highly irregular periods who have no way of knowing they are pregnant, or women who think they are in menopause and discover it is pregnancy. A surprising number of women have periods after becoming pregnant and find, to their dismay, that they are four or five months pregnant rather than the two or three months they had calculated. Women who suspect they are carrying damaged fetuses cannot receive confirmation of this through amniocentesis until the fourth month of pregnancy, and do not have the option of choosing early abortion.
* * * *
In Wisconsin the shrill insistence of the Catholic Church that all Wisconsin must live by Catholic doctrine is particularly ironic, when one realizes that Catholic women are the major group seeking abortions in Wisconsin. In 1971 in a survey of 200 consecutive women referred by Madison ZPG, 54 per cent were Catholic. Edith Rein, formerly of Milwaukee and the founder of the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion, the first referral group in the state, reports 75 percent Catholic women referred over a four year period. Rev. Elinor Yeo of the Clergy Consultation Service in Milwaukee reports approximately 80 percent Catholic women referred in 1972 and 70 percent in 1973. The Catholic Church obviously cannot sell its ideas to its own people; what arrogance that it should attempt to impose these beliefs by law on others.
Instead of frantically attempting to bolster its fractured church by the same old pronouncements on the evils of contraception, sterilization, and abortion, the Catholic Church would be far more profitably and relevantly employed in asking itself: What have we done to our women? Why do so many Catholic women seek abortions?
The answers are obvious, of course. A woman brought up to regard contraception as sinful is far less apt to protect herself from an unwanted pregnancy than a woman who has been taught that contraception is intelligent. A Catholic woman is more apt to experiment with rhythm, one of the least effective methods of birth control. A Catholic woman is more apt to have been denied a tubal ligation by her Catholic physician in her Catholic hospital. She is more apt to seek abortion because she is worn out from childbearing, because she has had a baby every year until she is about to die from it.
Whenever I hear a Catholic priest condemning abortion, I remember the young woman whom I counseled extensively both before and after her abortion, who needed far more support than most of the women I refer. She had been impregnated by her priest.
The most unsuccessful birth control and abortion reform groups in this country have been led by those who say, "But what will people think if we criticize religion? We don't want to alienate our Catholic friends." It's a cop-out and a very serious one. When I first heard that the proabortion forces working to win the referendum in Michigan were not planning to utilize religious arguments in their battle, and were going to refrain scrupulously from any criticism of the Catholic Church, I shuddered. This is what the battle is all about. When the Catholic Church is trying to ram its doctrine down the throats of everyone in sight, you are not going to beat them off if you tiptoe around saying how nice they are.
The progress that has been brought about in women's rights, and birth control and abortion law reform, has been brought about despite the Catholic Church, not because of it. There is no point in our pretending that official Catholic views are enlightened and humane, or that Catholics are not different from anyone else. Catholics are different from others--they are quite willing to associate themselves with an organization that has done and continues to do an immense amount of damage to women, to families, to countries, and to the world. If the Catholic doctrines on sex (no contraception, no sterilization, no abortion) could prevail, all the world would be miserable instead of just some of it. All the world would be hungry. The world would end.
Repeatedly in my conversations with Catholics around the state of Wisconsin, I have urged those who have expressed sympathy with the contraception and abortion causes to start a "Catholics for the Right to Choose Abortion" or "Fond du Lac Catholics for Contraceptive Law Repeal." To a woman (or man), they have shuffled their feet, looked uncomfortable, and said, "Oh, I couldn't do that." When I say, "Well, at least quit giving money to your church and tell your priest why--no more money until these positions are changed," they reply, "Oh, but our priest is quite liberal." People like this are part of the problem; they are not part of the solution. They are totally unwilling to accept responsibility for the monstrous actions of their church.
If people had chosen to tiptoe around other harmful organizations, for example the Ku Klux Klan, and say, "Oh, they mean well; they're really nice people," the Klan would prosper. It is social disapproval and social pressure, as well as intellectual persuasion, that causes individuals to avoid groups or stop supporting them. If, through politeness, we smile and agree with our Catholic acquaintances that there are indeed many liberal Catholic priests, and, yes, hasn't the Church changed, they are going to keep on forking out the money and support that keeps the Catholic Church going, and buttresses its continued denial to women all over the world their right to practice contraception and have sterilizations and abortions.
Think of the millions of dollars the antiabortionists have already spent attempting to deny American women their right to choose abortion. Financial support for antiabortion candidates, full page ads in the country's most expensive newspapers, demonstrations, radio and television ads, books placed in libraries, films and slide shows, their own antiabortion newspaper--think of the good that money might have done. All over the world there are miserable, starving, needy Catholic children. Why, in the name of morality, aren't they helping children already born, rather than trying to force unwilling women to produce more unwanted children?
Think of the "Birthright" groups, those antiabortion counseling services that follow the lead of their mentors, the so-called "Right-to-Lifers." They, too, like to emphasize that they are not really Catholic groups, but ecumenical groups, and that is is sheer coincidence that so many of their offices are located on the premises of Catholic welfare organizations, such as homes for unwed mothers.
Another coincidence seems to be that Birthright, like the Catholic Church, opposes contraception and sterilization as well as abortion. Article 111, Section 2 of the Birthright Charter Document reads:
The Policy of every Birthright Chapter and everyone of its members and volunteers is all that chapter's efforts shall be to refrain in every instance from offering or giving advice on the subjects of contraception or sterilization, and to refrain from referring any person to another person, place or agency for this type of service.
No contraception, no sterilizations, no abortions--tell us, Birthright, what are women supposed to do?
But the real pity of the Birthright movement lies not in its attempts to conceal its Catholic pedigree, but in its conception as an antiabortion gesture--not out of concern for women, but because of adherence to religious doctrine. Had there been no freedom for women to choose abortion, there would have been no Birthright movement. The frightened pregnant woman who needed someone to turn to was always there. Birthright materialized and took an interest in her only when her right to choose abortion challenged sectarian belief.
Along about my two hundredth abortion referral, I became aware of a sort of refrain among the callers. "I asked my doctor for the pill, but he is Catholic and he won't help me." "I wanted a tubal ligation, but my doctor is Catholic and he wouldn't do it." "The specialist said not to have another baby or I might not live through it, but our hospital here is Catholic, and he couldn't do a ligation." Or, "After my last baby I wanted to go on the pill, but we're Catholic, and my husband wouldn't let me."
There is no way of assembling and evaluating the damage done to women, families, and society by the Catholic Church, but we can talk about it. Not to do so would be the equivalent of the emancipators of 120 years ago saying, "Oh, they own slaves, but they're nice people, so we won't say anything."
Birth control and abortion are our greatest steps forward in social and moral progress since we freed the slaves. A woman's right to control her own reproductive life is a blessing, a blessing for her and a blessing for society. There is no reason to be bashful or apologetic about supporting women's freedom to choose abortion; there is every reason to be ashamed of supporting a religion that opposes that freedom.
WOMEN, THOSE SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS, have suffered long and silently from an elitist medical profession dominated by males. When a general practitioner or a gynecologist goes out to a small community and will not, as many in Wisconsin still do not, offer birth control, sterilization, or abortions to his patients, the state is allowing the medical profession to place individual religious views above the health and welfare of its citizens. When women with four and five Caesarean sections are denied tubal ligations by their physicians, a familiar story in Wisconsin, we might as well be licensing Jack the Ripper or Richard Speck. Because women are going to suffer and women are going to die.
From 1969 to 1971 in Wisconsin forty-eight women died in pregnancy, thirty-two of whom had serious and compelling medical reasons not to be pregnant at all. (Herbert Sandmire, M.D., "Family Planning Comes of Age?" Wisconsin Medical journal, April, 1972, pp. 71-72.) Unbelievably these victims included a woman whose scar from a classical Caesarean section had ruptured in her last pregnancy. What did these medical boobs think would happen, allowing her to become and remain pregnant again? One woman who had had seven pregnancies, and suffered from hypertension of several years duration, requested an abortion, which was denied. One day prior to her own death, she delivered a stillborn, macerated fetus. No doubt her doctor still is allowed to practice his lethal brand of medicine and her hospital still is receiving public funds!
Other women in this Wisconsin study, who died from pregnancy, had diabetes, breast cancer, heart disease or disorders, histories of toxemia and hypertension, four and five previous Caesarean sections. They might as well have lived in remotest Upper Slobovia, for in far too many communities in Wisconsin a woman's life and health still do not matter--what matters is the religion of her physician and of those who control the local hospital.
In Wisconsin there are 145 hospitals for short-term patient care in the state. Of these 133 are classed as "private." In many communities the only obstetrical services available are from Catholic-owned or dominated hospitals. What are women to do under this sort of medical dictatorship? And is there such a thing any more as a "private" hospital? All hospitals receive huge infusions of the public's money, and they should be operated by medical, not religious standards. A state government does not license doctors or hospitals for their benefit, but for the public's benefit. When will the idea of service penetrate that armor of insensitivity surrounding the medical community?
A new wrinkle in hospital practice in cities having two or three hospitals is the channeling of maternity patients to one facility. All too often the facility chosen is a Catholic hospital, and women needing sterilizations at the time of delivery find their medical needs ignored because of religious prejudice. Neonatal units (for high risk newborns), serving wide geographic areas, are occasionally located in Catholic hospitals, and the pregnant woman again is in a captive situation. Sterilizations are sought more often by women after high-risk pregnancies, and these patients' serious medical needs again are shunted aside. Catholic hospitals delight in proclaiming their moral objections to abortion, yet every time they deny a woman a sterilization they have created a candidate for abortion.
In the backlash of the United States Supreme Court decision on abortion, Congress and many states have passed laws specifying that any hospital, public or private, may turn away any woman for sterilization or abortion, no matter what her physical condition, even if she has a doctor willing to help her. These laws have been challenged successfully insofar as public hospitals are concerned, but, unbelievably, the private hospital exemption has been allowed to stand. While such laws have limited effect in large, urban communities with a choice of hospitals for women and doctors, they seriously jeopardize freedom of choice and humane health care for women who have one local hospital.
These laws, of course, discriminate against women, since men do not need abortions and can have their sterilizations performed in doctor's offices. Women need a hospital for a second trimester abortion and for a sterilization. Such laws discriminate against the poor. If a well-to-do woman is denied an abortion or tubal ligation in her own community, she has the money and resources to seek these services elsewhere. But if the poor woman is not served by her local community, she is rarely served at all.
No hospital should be allowed to deny emergency treatment to women. When a woman is having a fourth or fifth Caesarean section, she needs a tubal ligation; this is an emergency situation. When a woman becomes pregnant, who has diabetes or hypertension or a heart disorder or any of a dozen other serious conditions, she needs an abortion; these are emergency situations. Too many women suffer and die because hospital policy ranks higher with male physicians, male legislators, and male judges than women's lives and health.
In 1974, 5,000 applicants, many of them women, applied for 121 medical school openings at the Wisconsin Medical College in Milwaukee.(Milwaukee Journal, Sept. 8,1974) While some of these applicants were accepted at other schools, and many did not have the necessary academic qualifications, there were still large numbers of qualified would-be physicians who were turned away. Here we are, the richest country in the world, and qualified women and men who wish to become doctors may not do so because we do not have the capacity to train them. The most important single thing we can do to improve health care in our country is to train more doctors, and to be sure that at least half of them are 'women, and that blacks and other minorities are represented fairly. Who knows--with enough doctors to help, maybe house calls might be fashionable again? (In 1955 I had had twin babies via Caesarean section, my third Caesarean, with my medical history further embellished by a ruptured appendix earlier in that pregnancy. I was nursing the babies, having an abundance of milk, but developed a breast infection when they were about a month old. I was really very sick, with chills and raging fever. The doctor diagnosed and prescribed over the phone. When a couple of days passed and my fever still raged, the doctor suggested that I come in for an office visit. I explained what he must have known--that I was too weak to do that, that my fever edged up a notch or two just getting up to go to the bathroom. When I recovered and went in a week or so later to be checked, he said, "Well, we got through that one all right, didn't we?" I would agree that the patient going to the doctor makes sense most of the time, but there are occasions when house calls are warranted, even for obstetricians.)
In addition to training more doctors we must check the screening procedures used in acceptance of applicants. Medical schools must not look just for academic excellence, but for social concern, some evidence of social commitment, some awareness in the applicant of the dignity and worth of all people. Too often a physician comes across not as a patient advocate, but as a patient adversary. The qualities of consideration and warmth are ignored. One cannot avoid the impression that most medical schools in the past have screened for political conservatives.
Since a medical education is the most expensive education we offer, and since the medical student pays for only a small portion of that education (15 percent at the University of Wisconsin, Madison), it is fair and proper that we expect certain things of these privileged persons. If a student wishes to become a gynecologist or obstetrician, the student should understand that she/he will be expected to help women with birth control and do tubal ligations and abortions. Medical students must be screened, and if they possess convictions that prevent their delivering certain medical care, then they should either specialize in an area where they cannot damage their patients with their personal beliefs, or perhaps they should consider the church, not medicine.
In addition, since this is such an expensive education that we provide, there is no reason why we should not ask these women and men, who have been chosen for this coveted training, to serve in areas without doctors for two years, or perhaps a period equivalent to their academic training? Who knows-they might like the communities that need them, and when they wished to leave, new graduates would be coming along. This is a practical, feasible answer to the distribution problem.
If we had a shortage of persons wanting and qualified to be physicians, we would have some excuse for being in the bind we are in. We do not have that shortage. Our problem is one of priorities, and our priorities can be changed!
The letter that follows is just an "every day" letter that illustrates the problems caused by doctors imposing religious views on their patients. This young couple had decided to opt for permanent birth control but could find no doctor to help them.
Dear ZPG: I wrote to you about eight months ago. My husband wanted a vasectomy and you were very good to give us a list of doctors from this area who perform this surgery. We contacted the doctors but no one would do it because my husband is only twenty-four. At that time I had tried the pill and had very bad reactions, and the doctor did not want to give it to me. So they put in an IUD that worked for one year, and now I am pregnant. We have prepared ourselves for a baby, knowing we will try to make good parents. But the point is that after four years of marriage and two years of going together, we had definitely decided we did not want children. Now with one baby coming we are already worrying about what method of birth control we can use next. We can't understand why this decision should not be ours. We are old enough to vote and pay taxes and run a business of our own, but we aren't old enough to decide if we want a family or not. We have discussed all the angles many times and this is still our choice. So if there is anything you can do to help us now we would appreciate it. Thank you. R.S.
The medical community could do so many painless things to improve its image and its services. Boards of Medical Examiners, for instance, should not all be physicians; they should have consumer representation. Medical societies should offer referrals. There should be a place to call and find out where one can get, for example, a safe tonsillectomy at the lowest cost. There should be simple procedures for registering complaints about treatment and charges.
Recently I referred a woman for abortion, who had a three-year-old child and an eleven-week-old baby. She said her doctor, a specialist, had told her as long as she was nursing and used foam, she would not get pregnant. She believed him, and she got pregnant. Now, you could forgive a doctor like that if he were some old, overworked, country GP, but a specialist! Doesn't he read the literature? She could have got advice as sound from any occult. And here she is-she doesn't want to have an abortion, but what is she to do?
Besides giving out a great deal of misinformation and incomplete information on contraception, many doctors will not tell women of the risks involved in closely spaced pregnancies, or the risks of childbirth. Some of them love to represent abortion as involving risk, but they will not tell women that delivery involves greater risk. A careful specialist will see that his patient goes off the pill every two to three years for a few months time, to let her ovaries work on their own, but there are specialists who will never let on to their patients that four, five or even seven straight years on the pill is a risk they should not take.
Personal action is certainly in order for every woman in this country concerned with women's medical care. First of all, quiz your doctor. If he is opposed to contraception, sterilization, or abortion, dump him. Even if it means the inconvenience of going to another community, don't patronize him. If you are lucky and he is not a sexist, that is still no reason to be in awe of him. If he goofs, let him know. If his charges are excessive, complain. He has had a privileged education, tax-supported for the most part. He should be serving patients, not running his own private dictatorship.
Over the past few years my own attitude toward the medical profession has undergone a rather painful metamorphosis. I summed it up in a speech before a medical group in the spring of 1971, the chapter that follows.
MOST OF MY LIFE I have been somewhat in awe of doctors. I have shared the general view that the profession was noble and the practitioners worthy of respect. My deference was so pronounced that my husband used to tease me, saying I failed to get my money's worth out of trips to the doctor. I was habitually reluctant to discuss my aches and pains to any degree when I actually was in the doctors' offices, because my symptoms seemed so trivial in light of the serious cases I knew they had to treat. And I appreciated that they must frequently be tired, probably overworked, at least pressed for time. I was pleased to have doctors as business friends and acquaintances, and I shared the traditional admiring attitude elicited by a physician's presence in any gathering.
But now all that has changed. I am a pronounced critic of the medical profession. I am on speaking terms only with two or three of my former medical friends and acquaintances. I no longer read or respect the AMA News. We even boo at our house when Marcus Welby comes on TV.
The reason? In my work for abortion reform I have learned that most doctors care more for their bank balances, their colleagues' opinions, their comfortable, unjeopardized way of life than they do for the health and welfare of their women patients.
When a federal court declared last March that the Wisconsin abortion law was unconstitutional and that the state of Wisconsin could no longer deprive a woman of her right to terminate an early, unwanted pregnancy, I was elated. Now, I thought, the doctors will help these women. Yet in the whole state of Wisconsin with its thousands of doctors, only one acted--Dr. Alfred Kennan of the University of Wisconsin Medical School. Calls came pouring into University Hospital from all over the country--as many as seventy in a day, with special-delivery letters and wires adding to that count. The hospital administration very quickly adopted a quota, understandable since they are a training hospital, but totally unrealistic in that only about five to eight abortions weekly were to be performed.
Because of my work with the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion my own phone started to ring, and I was able to get a few of these patients requesting abortions into University Hospital. But what to do with the others? I phoned every gynecologist in Madison asking for his help. Few were even polite to me. Only one showed any compunction about turning down my request. At the time I phoned one of the patients I specifically was trying to help was a fifteen-year-old girl from a broken home, whose very young age and tragic family situation I thought would surely elicit sympathy. Not a chance! I turned next on behalf of this girl to Milwaukee specialists. One doctor made an appointment and on the day of the appointment cancelled it. Another saw her after a ten-day wait and then refused to do the abortion. The search had been time consuming and by this time the girl had passed the deadline for the D & C. Since my only other safe source at this time was in Mexico City and because it seemed impossible to have a fifteen-year-old go that far away alone, I kept phoning Milwaukee doctors and finally found a crusader who did accept her. However, the salting out did not progress well, there were complications and she was in serious condition for two days before recovery. My relief to have her well and happy again was somewhat tempered by the fact that her hospital bill was in excess of $1,000, and by my knowledge that if there had been one Madison doctor who cared about a teen-aged girl's right not to become a mother, she could have had a safe, simple, inexpensive abortion in early pregnancy.
About this time two or three Madison organizations interested in abortion reform arranged a meeting with Madison General Hospital, a community-supported facility. Women's Liberation people spoke on the side of abortion; a pediatrician, a psychologist and a Unitarian clergyman from my committee urged the hospital to perform abortions. But the doctors from the hospital and its administrators told us they had no intention of doing abortions. It was one of the low points of my life as I listened to male after male speak against having the hospital offer this service. The final straw was the chief of staff who took the podium and talked about his "reverence for life." The meeting broke up into informal arguments and as I left the room I heard one doctor dramatically exclaim, "Why are you all so angry?"
I had not been asked to speak that night and the doctor's rhetorical question went unanswered, but I have often thought of what that answer should have been.
We are angry because for the first time we have seen the need for abortion that you must have seen throughout your careers and would do nothing about. We are angry because the court has given you the opportunity to help women who do not want to be pregnant, yet you will not take that opportunity, even though it brings you much money and much gratitude.
We are angry because we have seen and heard so much tragedy, so much avoidable tragedy. We cannot understand why you would want a fifteen-year-old girl who is physically immature, mentally immature, desperately unhappy, her education incomplete, to become a mother, when you possess the skill and have the legal right to help her.
We are angry because we think of the women throughout human history who have had to endure unwanted pregnancies. We know, now, at this time, women who are too poor to have another baby, who have too many children already. We know women who have begged their doctors for contraceptives or for tubal ligations, and who are now pregnant because they were refused. How, we wonder, do you have the audacity to turn away the woman who wants an abortion when you would not help her prevent that pregnancy?
We know, as we are sure you know too, how many victims of incest and rape there really are in Wisconsin. How, we ask, can you be so inhumane as to turn away a thirteen year-old girl and her eleven- year-old sister, who have been impregnated by their mother's "boy friend"?
And what about those pregnant girls who cry throughout conversations with you because their boy friends have gone--gone to California, or gone to Florida, or "We were to be married, but I don't know where he is now"?
What about the mother who has had a baby every year? Can't you recognize that a pregnant woman with five little children, the youngest three months, has a legitimate claim to any doctor's help and sympathy?
You ask why we are all so angry. We answer with a question. How can you be so cruel?
THE STARVING CHILDREN have come into our living rooms now. There they are on the network evening news lining up for a cup of milk, or bony hands outstretched, jostling for a bit of food. We were told this would happen. Back in 1950 scholars were predicting this. But ours was the country of surpluses and it was not a problem of scarcity, most said, but a problem of distribution. In 1950 poor India appealed to the World Health Organization (WHO) for help with contraception, but the Catholic member nations of WHO made their usual outcry, and what India got in 1950, when the problem still might have been alleviated, was a team of experts to teach--you guessed it: rhythm!
Now the signs of disaster are everywhere. Food shortages, fuel shortages, fertilizer shortages, unemployment, pollution, dust bowls, encroaching deserts, disease. For it is a truth that population is going to be controlled. If it is not controlled by women's and men's intellect, it will be controlled by famine, disease, and war.
Sharing the American continent are countries so poor that most of their people are malnourished, yet these countries will double their populations in the next twenty years. The question is inescapable: when these governments cannot take care of the people they have now, how can they be expected to keep up with the demands of ever-burgeoning populations?
How long will our neighbors to the south allow each other to live in peace? How long will the United States and Canada remain islands of affluence while the rest of the hemisphere suffers? What would you do if it were your kids that were hungry?
Food is only one problem--health and education are critical problems, too. In all the six central American countries there are fewer physicians than we have in the state of Tennessee, and Tennessee is not known for its advanced health care. In El Salvador for every one hundred students in the first grade in 1967, eighty failed to graduate from the sixth grade, and untold numbers never find their way to school at all. (C. Capa, and J. M. Stycos, Margin of Life. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1974, p. 6.) Health care should be the right of every child in the world and how do you break the poverty cycle without education, without some preparation for jobs?
We live today on a crowded and polluted planet where population control has become our single most important problem. Every five days there are one million more persons on earth. Even with the much- heralded dip in the United States birthrate, our own country added almost 1.5 million persons to its numbers last year, some through immigration, but most through added births. The reality of overpopulation confronts almost every country, yet in much of the world contraception remains limited, sterilization unavailable, and abortion illegal.
PREGNANCY IS NOT something you do; it is something that happens to you.
Far too often pregnancy has been compulsory, and its limited emergence as an elective already is shaking society. That the women's liberation movement in America coexists with a drop in the birthrate is not coincidence. True equality for all women will have as its immediate by-product a drop in the number of births. Real freedom to control reproduction will change the world because women never wanted all those babies-they had them because they couldn't help it.
When most cultures regard women as breeding machines, and most of the world does just that, of course populations will grow. When you are brought up not to please yourself, but to please men, naturally you are going to breed. Left to be free you might use your creativity to be a composer or inventor or architect, but if the role that is forced on you is that of wife and mother, you must be very strong indeed to overthrow tradition. When in school you are steered toward home economics or typing, and to become a cheerleader is the begin-all, end-all of existence, of course you are going to turn out to be a breeder. If cheering on the men rather than achieving things yourself is what you are judged by, then quite naturally you will fall into the pregnancy trap.
In the United States we are taking the first steps toward a society that will see women as persons, not sex objects. We are moving toward a society that will give women equal opportunities in the professions and trades, where the criterion for employment will be ability, not sex. Such a society will produce happier women and men. Such a society will produce fewer children, but such children will be treasured because they will not be accidents, or duties, or someone else's expectations--they will be wanted children.
Feminist and author Elizabeth Janeway, who always has something thoughtful to say, addressed the annual meeting of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in Washington D.C. in October, 1973. Commenting on the possibility of the United States Supreme Court decision on abortion being overthrown, Ms Janeway concluded: "If we lose this one, we belong in the kitchen."
But we're not going to lose this one. Male supremacists, fundamentalists, and the Catholic Church finally have met their match. Feminists will work until the freedom to choose abortion is extended to women everywhere. Women no longer belong in the kitchen. They belong, as equal persons, in the world.
WHENEVER I SPEAK ON ABORTION an inevitable question is: "Why don't women just use birth control?"
It is my own experience in referring women for abortions that about 38 percent of them are practicing birth control at the time they become pregnant. Some of the methods being used are most unreliable-- foam, rhythm, withdrawal, but people are trying. Out of each hundred women I refer, I can count on three or four of them having IUD's in place. Although most IUD failures seem to occur in the first year of use, I have referred a woman for abortion whose IUD had worked for her for nine years. Women getting pregnant with them after two or three years of successful use is not at all unusual. The Dalkon shield, the crab-shaped IUD so popular with physicians, is the most unreliable of the well-known IUD's. Recently it was withdrawn from the market, since it apparently was the cause of serious uterine infections, some fatal, in women who became pregnant while it was in place.
The pill, of course, is an effective method of birth control, but even with its good record of reliability some women still get pregnant on it--they do not forget to take it--there are occasional legitimate pill failures. One woman I referred for abortion became pregnant twice on the pill. The first time she carried her pregnancy to term, and then her doctor prescribed a stronger pill. She took it faithfully and she took it at the same time every day just to be very sure. And she conceived a second time, even on a high estrogen-content pill.
Although pill failures are relatively rare, serious reactions to the pill are common. Many women who have family histories of blood-clotting diseases should not take it at all. Women subject to migraine headaches, asthma, varicose veins or high blood pressure may worsen their conditions on it. Liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease or defect, and cancer usually preclude use of the pill.
For many women the decision to take the pill is out of their hands because it makes them so sick--there is no question of their continuing on it. Unhappily many women stay on the pill despite side effects because their contraception options are so limited.
In addition to being so imperfect, contraception is still unavailable, especially to young people and to poor people. Many states still have laws restricting the visibility and accessibility of contraceptives. For instance in Wisconsin condoms legally may not be sold in machines, and crusader Bill Baird was arrested in 1971 for displaying "indecent articles" in a public lecture. Until a federal court ruling in November, 1974, unmarried persons in Wisconsin legally could not use contraceptives. As long as contraception remains as imperfect as it is and as unavailable as it is, we can expect women to resort to abortion.
Those who ask, "Why don't they just use birth control?" must be reminded that sex education is trivial or nonexistent in many schools. The student learns in the typical biology or health class that sex may result in pregnancy, but she/he is not told how to avoid that pregnancy. In addition, many Catholic women and men are brought up to believe that contraception is sinful, and consequently they take chances they would not take had this particular indoctrination not befallen them.
Getting pregnant is very easy. Educating people how not to get pregnant is a gargantuan task, especially in a state like Wisconsin, which has an anticontraceptive law uniquely constructed to make dissemination of information as difficult as possible.
Two very common causes of birth-control failure are dependence on a so-called "safe period," and using condoms for ejaculation only.
I am not a fan of billboards, but I would like to see a few on every major highway across the country saying, "There is no such thing as a safe period." Although most women are apt to conceive midway between periods, I have referred women for abortions whose only intercourse was just before a menstrual period, just after a menstrual period, even during a menstrual period. It is a fact that ovaries can release eggs any old time. The only way for someone to be reasonably sure she does not conceive is to use an effective method of birth control all the time.
Packages of condoms should carry instructions in big, bold print that this product must be used throughout intercourse if it is to be an effective method of birth control. Too often men do not use condoms throughout sex, but only for ejaculation. Sperms escape prior to ejaculation, and pregnancy results.
All of our present methods of birth control are very poor; all have serious shortcomings. The pill's chief liability is its unpleasant, sometimes dangerous side effects; the IUD its pain in insertion, the cramping and heavy menstrual flow it frequently causes, and its unreliability for many women. Foam, of course, is grossly unreliable, and despite what the ads say should never be used alone, only with condoms or a diaphragm. Condoms interfere with touch; many women have aesthetic objections to diaphragms or worry that they may slip out of position. So there you are. It's too bad some of the money we have spent on munitions could not have been spent on research for contraceptives.
When someone says to me, "Why don't women just use birth control?" I am reminded of the member of Birthright who called me long distance for abortion referral information. She was very distraught, half-crying and said, "I always thought of myself as helping these young girls. I never thought of women like me getting pregnant." Her method of birth control had always worked for her, and she was devastated when it failed.
When some woman shakes her head and says, "I could never have an abortion," through my mind pass the dozens and dozens of conversations I have had that started out with the caller saying, "I never dreamed I would be calling a service like yours ... I never believed in abortion ... I never thought I would want an abortion, but..."
Never is a long, long time.
WHEN DR. KENNETH EDELIN was found guilty of manslaughter by a Boston jury in February, 1975, in the alleged death of a fetus following a legal abortion, the story broke on a Saturday afternoon, and we in Madison braced ourselves for the interpretive reporting of the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison's conservative morning newspaper. Sure enough! There in a type size appropriate for the announcement of World War III was the antiabortion version of what had happened. "ABORTION RULED A KILLING" exulted Sunday morning's banner headline.
That gentle Dr. Edelin ever should have found himself a defendant against a charge of manslaughter beggars belief. Reared in a black district of Washington D.C., he attended segregated schools there. One of four children, three of whom went to college, he graduated from Columbia University in New York in 196 1, taught math and science for awhile, and then decided to take up medicine, graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
He became the first black chief resident of obstetricsgynecology in the history of Boston City Hospital, a hospital which serves a largely black clientele. After the historic Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, he performed abortions at the hospital for the women who requested them.
In October, 1973, a black woman brought her seventeen-year-old unmarried daughter to Dr. Edelin for an abortion. Estimating her pregnancy at approximately twenty-one to twenty-two weeks, Dr. Edelin proceeded with the saline-injection method of abortion, which usually causes uterine contractions and expulsion of the fetus. When attempts at repeated saline injections were unsuccessful, he performed the abortion surgically by a procedure called hysterotomy, a miniature Caesarean section. His patient had a normal recovery.
Prior to this time in Boston, four scientists, all medical doctors, were trying to find alternate drugs to prescribe for pregnant women allergic to penicillin. They had studied, with the consent of the patients involved, thirty-three women who were having abortions. Two antibiotic drugs, clindamycin and erythromycin, were given the women prior to their abortions, and the aborted fetuses were then studied, to see which drug more readily passed the placental barrier. Their findings, that clindamycin passes through more easily than erythromycin, and that either drug is a reasonable alternative to penicillin in the treatment of intrauterine infections, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Agneta Philipson, M.D., L.D. Sabath, M.D., and David Charles, M.D., "Transplacental Passage of Erythromycin and Clindamycin," New England Journal of Medicine, June 7, 1973). Antiabortionists, to whom fetal research is anathema even though it is conducted to help women retain pregnancies, called this article to the attention of Massachusetts State Representative Raymond Flynn, who took the issue to a Boston City Council member, Albert O'Neill, who in turn called it to the attention of Boston District Attorney Garrett Byrne. (Boston Globe, Jan. 5, 1975. Subsequent direct quotations in this chapter, unless otherwise attributed, come from the Boston Globe, Jan. 5,12,19, Feb. 16,17,1975.) In Byrne's ensuing investigation, the twenty-one to twenty-two week fetus Dr. Edelin had aborted was discovered at the mortuary by the antiabortionists. Grand jury proceedings followed. Eventually, unbelievably, the four doctors engaged in fetal experimentation were charged under a nineteenth century "grave-robbing" statute (case pending), and Dr. Edelin was charged with manslaughter. Alice- in-Wonderland never knew what she missed by not visiting Boston.
The six-weeks trial of Dr. Edelin, a trial that never should have taken place, attracted nationwide attention. The prosecutor, forty-four-year-old Assistant District Attorney Newman A. Flanagan, was described repeatedly by the Boston Globe in flattering terms. "His reputation for wit and flair matches his record as a tough prosecutor," trilled the Globe. Examples of his wit were recorded: he explained his gray hair as a result of "early piety" and "he might pick up a dead phone and say for the amusement of his fellow prosecutors 'Tell Cronkite I'm too busy ... No, no, I haven't got time to be interviewed by Newsweek."'
That he was the father of seven children was duly reported by the Boston paper, along with his eldest son's athletic prowess. The full roster of prosecutors' names--Flanagan, Mulligan, Brennan and Dunn-- sounded like roll call at an Irish wake.
Judge for the trial in Suffolk's Superior Court was James McGuire, a graduate of Catholic University and Boston University School of Law. The Boston Globe cited his "reputation for competency" and for "keeping lawyers from straying off the central issue."
This "reputation for competency" was put to an early test. William Homans, the attorney for Dr. Edelin, asked to have the case thrown out of court on the basis of the jury pool. In Boston, a "sexist" computer chooses names of prospective jurors; it is programmed to put out two men's names for every one woman's name. In addition, the registrar is instructed to mail out the summons for jury duty on a two- to-one, male-preferred basis. This blatant discrimination against women did not move Judge McGuire, who denied Homans' request. The all-white jury that was selected was predominantly male; only three women were chosen. Ten of the twelve persons finally deciding Dr. Edelin's fate were Catholic.
That card-carrying, dues-paying Catholics ever should have been allowed to serve on a jury deciding a charge of abortion-related manslaughter is a travesty of justice. They support the institution that is the major enemy of abortion in the world--yet they were allowed to bring their religious bias to this legal setting.
Examination of jurors is extremely restrictive in Massachusetts. It is all done by the judge alone. Although the defense attorneys and the prosecution may submit questions for the judge to ask, there is no delving permitted and a very limited number of challenges allowed. In a case as serious as Edelin's, lawyers for the defendant are understandably reluctant to use up all their challenges early in the jury screening, since far more biased potential jurors could be expected to be coming down the pike.
The prosecution stumbled early in its case, when one of its major witnesses against Dr. Edelin testified that she had not been in the operating room at all at the time the hysterotomy took place. In essence, the only witness against Dr. Edelin turned out to be Dr. Enrique Gimenez-Jimeno, who testified that Dr. Edelin, after detaching the placenta from the uterine wall, held the fetus within the woman's uterus for three minutes while looking at a clock on the operating room wall. Such an action would deprive a fetus of oxygen. Gimenez-Jimeno's testimony was refuted by all other eye-witnesses, who stated that the hysterotomy took place with no unusual delays and that the clock Dr. Gimenez referred to was not there at all, as it had been taken out for repairs.
"Experts," whose qualifications included leadership positions in the antiabortion movement, told the jurors that in their opinion the fetus was viable despite its early gestational age. Other witnesses testified that in their judgment the fetus was nonviable, that it not only never breathed, but was incapable of breathing. Dr. Edelin told the jury that he would not perform an abortion if he believed the fetus might live independently from the woman.
"I have never performed an abortion on a woman who was carrying a fetus I considered to be viable," Dr. Edelin testified. "In fact, I have refused to perform such abortions."
At the close of the trial the names of the sixteen jurors were placed in a small metal drum and four slips were removed. These four, who became the alternate jurors and did not participate in the verdict, ironically turned out to be the two youngest and the two most educated members of the panel.
"We polled ourselves," said Michael Ciano, one of the four, "and three of us voted for Dr. Edelin's acquittal."
The other twelve jurors retired to discuss the case, and did not reach a verdict for seven hours. The defense had been hopeful when Judge McGuire charged the jury, because he instructed them that manslaughter required the death of a person, which was defined as an infant born alive and able to exist outside the uterus. Dr. Edelin said later his own optimism dimmed as the first day of deliberation passed and no verdict was reached. When the jury recessed for the night on Friday, he was worried. Shortly after one o'clock on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 15, 1975, the jury brought in its verdict. Foreman Vincent Shea forcefully called out their finding: "Guilty."
Dr. Edelin said he saw the guilty verdict on the faces of the jurors even before the foreman shouted it.
"When the jury came in not one of them would look me in the eye," he said. "I became very apprehensive. As it turned out the die was cast when we picked the jurors.... It was a witch-hunt. I don't think the jury was fair. I don't think it would have been possible to get a fair jury in Suffolk County, no matter how many challenges we might have had."
Later certain jury members were to say that a photograph of the fetus shown to them by Prosecutor Flanagan decided them in their finding of Dr. Edelin's guilt, because "it looked like a baby." Since there was no question of the legality of the abortion procedure, the jurors had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Edelin had been guilty of negligence following the abortion. A photograph of a preserved fetus scarcely gives credence to a charge of negligence. It is probably the first time in courtroom history that a defendant was found guilty because his alleged victim looked like a person!
Racial bias may have abetted religious bias, according to alternate juror Michael Ciano, who charged that racial slurs against Dr. Edelin had been made more than once before closing arguments. Although other jurors were to deny this, Ciano quoted one juror as saying, "That black nigger is as guilty as sin."
Dr. Edelin remained outwardly composed after the verdict, but others in the courtroom did not. There were sobs and cries of disbelief as spectators said to each other, "How could they find him guilty?" Several women left the courtroom looking dazed and stunned; some were crying openly. Those who had followed the testimony day after day were especially disbelieving.
"Edelin's attorneys countered the philosophical arguments and they countered the factual arguments," one feminist told me. "The overwhelming weight of evidence was on our side. When the mainstay of the testimony against Dr. Edelin is the word of one man, who reportedly held personal animosity toward him and who based his testimony on a clock that wasn't even there--well, that jury was just dumb."
That Judge McGuire may have shared her opinion seems a likely speculation. According to a report in the Globe, he, too, seemed "stunned" by the verdict, and did not thank the jury as is customary after a long trial. Three days later he sentenced Dr. Edelin to one year's probation.
The Edelin case is being appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, with oral arguments probably being heard in the fall of 1975. Although there can be little question that the conviction will be overturned, and that the final fallout from the trial will be favorable, its immediate effect was that many of the doctors and hospitals across the country that had been doing second trimester abortions cut back.
Once again, the victims are women.
* * * *
And who are these women who seek late abortions?
Almost all of them are very young. They are minors who are afraid to tell their parents they are pregnant, until that pregnancy starts to show. Frequently they are children--thirteen, fourteen or fifteen--who refuse to accept the fact that they are pregnant until that fact is obvious to others. They are young people outside the information system, who live in communities where there is no one to turn to for information on early abortion.
If an older woman seeks a late abortion, and this is rare, she is apt to be someone in her forties, who thinks she is in menopause and discovers it is pregnancy. Or she may be someone who does not have regular monthly periods, and does not experience other early symptoms of pregnancy. Or she may be someone whose periods have continued after conception.
She may be a woman with mongolism in her family, or the woman who already has produced an abnormal child and wants to be sure the fetus she carries will result in a normal person. Tests for chromosomal abnormalities can be done, but not until about the fourth month of pregnancy. Then, after the test, a culture must be grown which may take another three to six weeks, and this woman may not know until her fifth month of pregnancy that she is carrying a retarded, deformed fetus.
Not long ago I was contacted for help for a sixteen-year-old girl who was near the end of her second trimester of pregnancy. Her father had a construction business, and a relative, a young man in his twenties, had come to work for her father and had stayed in their home until he found an apartment. He had raped the sixteen-year-old and she became pregnant as a result. She was afraid to tell anyone--she was afraid of the young man and afraid of her father. Finally, she told a teacher, who helped her tell her mother. These are the tragic stories behind the requests for late abortions.
In January, 1975, I spent many hours arranging a late abortion in New York City for a mentally retarded black girl from the Milwaukee ghetto. She was fourteen years old and had no idea of what had happened to her. Some man had taken advantage of her mental deficiency to impregnate her. Despite her tragic circumstances no help was available for her in Wisconsin, where the few hospitals that do a limited number of late abortions cut off at eighteen or twenty weeks.
No woman ever gets pregnant in order to have an abortion. No woman ever says to herself, "Well, I'm six weeks pregnant, but I'm going to wait and have my abortion at six months because it will be so much more fun." Women ask for late abortions for serious and compelling reasons, and the option of late abortion must be kept open for all these tragic cases.
ABORTION IS A BLESSING
by Anne Nicol Gaylor
Copyright 1975 by Anne Gaylor
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
SEVERAL YEARS AGO in Wisconsin a young high school girl was raped and impregnated by her drunken father. He served a term at Waupun for the crime, but nobody helped the little girl. An honor student, she was forced to drop out of school to become the mother of her father's child.
I do not know whatever happened to that girl, or if her life was salvageable, but I know now that her story is not rare.
To her, and to all the other desperate women our society has treated with such blind and hostile cruelty, this book is dedicated, with gratitude that women finally are becoming free.
I would like to thank
- Patricia Theresa Maginnis for her permission to include four of her incomparable cartoons in this book,
- Kay Jacobs Katz for her moving testimony before a Congressional committee, included as an appendix of this book,
- Anne Treseder and Beverly Braun for their suggestions and ideas incorporated in NEWS RELEASE1984,
- my daughter Annie Laurie for her "Foot-in-the-Mouth" cartoon and her fashioning of the "Pregnant Proxmire" poster,
- my entire family for unfailing patience during five years of an ever-ringing phone,
- a new friend, Bea Blair, for her enthusiastic help and encouragement, and an old friend, Hania W. Ris, M.D., for moral support over the years in our work for legal abortion,
- my publisher, Robert Wesner, for his concern for women's rights and his willingness to publish a feminist's view of a controversial subject.
-Anne Nicol Gaylor
Date: April 1, 1984
For Immediate Release
(Milwaukee) The sobbing parents of a fifteen-year-old rape victim and the physician who performed an abortion for her were sentenced today to life imprisonment by Fetal Rights judge John Patrick O'Malley under the provisions of the Wisconsin Fetal Rights Act.
The girl herself, raped in January on her way home from an errand for her mother, was sentenced to the Oregon (WI) School for Girls for three years.
"In light of her age, I am showing mercy," Judge O'Malley said. "She could never have arranged an abortion without parental help. However, after her incarceration she will be on probation for thirty years, her presumed span of fertility. Someone who has shown such disdain for life, even though a minor, must be watched closely."
Dr. Jane Beacon, the gynecologist who performed the abortion, is appealing her conviction.
"She'll never win on an appeal," said Prosecuting Attorney Tony Bellano, speaking informally with reporters at the close of the month long trial. "There's no precedent for it. Murder is murder, and this was premeditated murder of the worst kind."
The parents, who have exhausted their financial resources in the current litigation, will start serving their life sentences next week.
Sentences of life imprisonment have become common in Wisconsin for women having abortions, physicians performing them, and those who aid and abet in them since the ratification of the Buckley- Proxmire Human Life Amendment four years ago. That amendment, which bestows full rights of personhood on a conceptus, embryo and fetus, extends homicide and manslaughter laws to cover all abortions except those done to save a woman's life.
To date in Wisconsin no abortions have been done to save a woman's life since the unanimous agreement of a twelve-man panel is required under the Fetal Rights Act.
Judge O'Malley's courtroom is clogged for the remainder of the week with hearings for women charged with minor infractions of the Fetal Rights Act. Most of these involve failure to register pregnancies by the sixth week of gestation. A statewide Pregnancy Monitoring Board was established last year in Wisconsin, but many women are claiming to be unaware of its regulations or unable to meet them. Duties of the Pregnancy Monitoring Board are being carried out principally by the old Selective Service organization. Some communities have Pregnancy Monitoring officers stationed at local post offices. Recently named as Advisory Members to the Wisconsin Pregnancy Monitoring Board are: Cardinal Terrence Cooke, Brent Bozell, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Seals & Crofts, Cesar Chavez, and former President Richard Nixon.
Judge O'Malley's upcoming calendar is crowded with Fetal Rights cases, including alleged attempts at self-abortion, continued use of IUD's (known now to act as abortifacients), inquiries into so-called "spontaneous" abortions which the prosecutors believe were undertaken intentionally, and the charges against a Milwaukee clergywoman, Rev. Ellen Norreo, who is accused of referring a Milwaukee woman for an abortion to Japan where the procedure remains legal.
Next week a trial will start before Judge O'Malley, involving a twenty-eight-old mother of six, who is being charged with failure to register her pregnancy, with the alleged intention of aborting herself by a prolonged motorcycle ride, undertaken to do herself sufficient bodily harm to cause abortion.
"This woman put her selfish concerns above the rights of the new person within her," exclaimed Prosecuting Attorney Joseph O'Hanrahan. "This is a nation under God. She and all women like her must be punished. All human life is sacred. 'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord."
Encouraged by the success of the Buckley-Proxmire Human Life Amendment, a national movement is now under way to extend the legal rights of personhood to the egg and the sperm.
"The precedent is already there," said Mrs. Michael Francis Ryan, president of the Wisconsin Voice of the Unconceived. "The wording in the Buckley-Proxmire Amendment says the person is protected at 'every stage of its biological development,' and surely this includes the egg. We should have no trouble ratifying an amendment to protect the innocent egg and the innocent sperm in Wisconsin, since Wisconsin law always has regarded contraception as 'indecent.'
"Think of the babies lost because of contraception and sterilization," Mrs. Ryan continued, "Think of the innocent, immature life of the egg and the sperm. Someone speak out for this unrepresented segment of society cannot speak for itself.
"Of course ours is not a Catholic movement," she added, "but an ecumenical movement. Every child has the right to be conceived."
So it can't happen here?
This book was written because it can happen here! The right of a woman to choose legal abortion can be taken away--unless the political efforts of religious extremists seeking to ban abortion through constitutional amendment are countered in Washington D.C. and in state capitals.
The historic, compassionate Supreme Court ruling of Jan. 22, 1973, freed millions of women from sexual servitude and from the dangerous, traumatic search for illegal abortions. This ruling, our country's greatest step forward in social and moral progress since the abolition of slavery, must be protected politically by the activism of individuals who write letters to legislators, attend hearings, visit their Congresspersons, and support groups working to keep abortion safe and legal.
For the past five years I have been in daily contact with women seeking abortions, and I have learned, as I could in no other way, of the tragedies that have been avoided because abortions are available. The stories of the hundreds of women that I have counseled personally, and the thousands of women from all over the country that I have talked to on the phone, have resulted in my clear understanding that abortion is a positive thing, a cure, a blessing.
I have become impatient not only with those religious zealots who tiresomely hiss "Murderers," but with those apologists who, while granting the right to abortion, insist that somehow a woman must feel guilt and remorse. I have come to suspect that the persons who refer to abortion as "a tragic option," or "a terrible alternative," hold allegiance not to women's freedom but to a male-dominated world gone by.
While recognizing that safe, sure contraception is a preferred alternative to abortion, I deal daily with the casualties of our "modern" contraceptive methods, and I recognize reality, that abortion does what contraception does not necessarily do: it works. I am further aware of the rigid, religious prohibitions against contraception of which certain women remain the victims. I know that far too many women in our country find contraception unavailable, especially if they are young or poor. I know that the teen- aged victim of incest can hardly be expected to be practicing contraception. And I have never heard of a rapist who used condoms.
In a sense I have been privileged to see firsthand the great need for abortion, and I have written this book to share my feelings and experiences so that others might come to see why abortion is a blessing, not only for women but for society. It is my hope that those who read this book will join in the effort to keep abortion safe and legal until that idealistic time when education, medical research, and human behavior combine to make abortion obsolete.
IN MY VOLUNTEER WORK for abortion in the past few years, I have been asked repeatedly, "How did you happen to become involved?" I usually have answered the question superficially because to answer it adequately would require a lengthy dissertation. But, in reality, it began in grade school with Ethel, who was impregnated, reportedly, by her brother.
Like most of the little girls I knew I regarded babies very highly, and as a farm child with few nearby playmates I used to daydream about someone leaving a baby on our doorstep for me to play with, as happened with delightful frequency in the books I read. The idea that a baby, or a pregnancy, could be unwanted did not occur to me until an older student in our one-room country school became pregnant.
Ethel was a shy, large, rather slow girl from a tenant farmer's huge family. It was not too long after the first shocked whispers about her pregnancy began to circulate that she dropped out of school, never to return. For poor young Ethel, age fourteen, biology was destiny.
There were a few forced marriages in our high school and the usual dropouts for unwed, unwanted pregnancies. And no wonder! Sex education for female students consisted of "a woman from the state" who came to the high school every other year or so to talk to the junior and senior girls for a class hour. We learned somehow-no explicit words were ever used-that intercourse could result in pregnancy, but we were not told how to prevent pregnancy. The sessions were acutely embarrassing, both for the red-faced woman from the state and for her audience. Questions very quickly turned to the safer subjects of menstruation, dating, and "going steady." The lesson we really learned was that sex was something you didn't discuss.
In my years as a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, one young woman's sad story impressed me forever with the futility of enforced pregnancy. At nineteen, pretty and popular (crucial traits in the 1940's), she was raped by an older man, an acquaintance of her family, and pregnancy resulted. Her parents sent her to the Twin Cities to complete the pregnancy, but her newborn baby was placed for adoption privately, with a Madison couple.
Tragically, after a few months it was learned that the baby was mentally retarded. The adoptive parents did not want the child, it could not be placed elsewhere, so it was institutionalized for a lifetime of care at public expense. And all of it was so unnecessary. The young woman's life was shadowed needlessly with physical and mental suffering; the product of rape was an abnormal child nobody ever wanted.
On my first visit to an obstetrician's office after my marriage, I sat across the waiting room from a mother and daughter. The sadness on their faces was obvious to anyone, as was the young girl's pregnancy. She seemed at most eleven or twelve years old, and she was the first pregnant child I had ever seen. I thought then, as I do now, that it was grossly inhumane that a child should have to become a mother. Babies having babies is a cruelty beyond compare. We do not let our immature animals breed, but our girl children--well, "that's fate."
Several years ago, when my husband and I lived in the University area of Madison, I was awakened one night by a rising and falling sound. At first I thought it was a mechanical sound, some eerie kind of siren. Then, sleepily I decided that it might be an animal, that perhaps a dog had been hit by a car and was crying in pain. Finally, fully awake, I realized with horror that I was listening to a woman screaming. I watched from the front windows of our home as an ambulance came to a nearby house to take her away. Her pain was so great that the eerie, animal screams were audible even after the ambulance doors had closed behind her. I learned the next day that the young woman, unmarried and pregnant, had attempted to abort herself.
During the 1960's so many tragic stories came to my attention, both in the press and from friends. There were occasional little items in the papers about a newborn baby found floating in the Rock River, and babies left dead or alive in shopping bags, in theatres, and wooded lots. A social worker told me of her attempts--unsuccessful--to secure an abortion for a mother of eight retarded children, to prevent the birth of a ninth retarded child. There was an illegitimacy explosion in the sixties with a consequent dismaying backlog of babies waiting for adoption--even the white-skinned, blue-eyed, golden-haired babies waited in those days.
One incident in the late sixties crystallized my thoughts on abortion, and resulted in my conviction that it must become legal. A teen-ager in Wisconsin, pregnant without her family's knowledge, delivered her baby at home alone at night. Distraught with pain and fear, she panicked when the baby began to cry and killed it, stabbing it with a pair of scissors.
Nine months can be an eternity when you are young. I could only shudder at the thought of a young girl carrying that secret burden for that length of time, and then going through the agony of first childbirth without anyone to help her. By her tragic action she had told us in the most pathetically eloquent way she could that this was an unwanted child. I knew that regardless of how abortion was looked upon, it was infinitely humane compared to the horror of unwanted pregnancies.
In 1967 as editor of a suburban weekly newspaper, I wrote the first editorial ever written in Wisconsin, calling for abortion law reform. I repeated this call for reform in a letter published in a national medical newspaper. In response, a New York physician wrote urging me to become active and join the Association for the Study of Abortion (ASA), one of the country's early abortion reform groups founded by professional people in New York. It was the first of a half-dozen groups concerned with freedom to choose abortion that I was to join. Soon, Edith Rein, a Milwaukeean who pioneered abortion reform and referral in Wisconsin, contacted me, encouraging me to start a chapter in Madison of her organization, the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion.
And so I became involved.
A MILWAUKEE PHYSICIAN, Sidney Babbitz, was arrested in fall of 1969, and charged with performing a criminal abortion in his offices. His lawyers took his case to federal court challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin's abortion law, which was similar to most of the abortions across the country, in that abortion was legal only to save a woman's life. Penalties went as high as fifteen years in prison.
On a blustery January day in 1970, this case was heard in the federal courtroom in Milwaukee before a three judge federal panel composed of former Wisconsin governor John Reynolds, former Illinois governor Otto Kerner, and Myron Gordon.
As I sat in that courtroom listening to the arguments, I could not help reflecting that here was a case of the utmost importance to women, yet no women were heard. The judges of course, were men. The opposing attorneys were men, as were the witnesses. Only in the courtroom audience were there any women and, by law, they were mute.
The panel's verdict was handed down in March of 1970. Unanimously the judges agreed Wisconsin's abortion law was unconstitutional.
With their ruling and the consequent publicity about it, my phone started to ring, with women calling wanting to know where to go for abortions. Five years and several thousands of calls later, the phone still rings, but how the times have changed!
Everyone who called cried in the beginning. And well they might.
One doctor, Alfred Kennan, a gynecologist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, accepted some patients, but the hospital had a meager quota, high prices ($600 for an early abortion), and the stipulation of two letters from other physicians that the abortion was necessary to preserve the woman's life. Despite these hurdles, that route took care of a few of the women who called me, and I referred some others to Milwaukee hospitals which had essentially the same red tape and high costs. Abortion, court ruling or no, was available only if someone had lots of determination and cash money, and started to search early enough in her pregnancy so that she could wait the month or more she might have to, for a hospital appointment.
In the spring of 1970 I referred about forty of the women who could not be helped in Wisconsin to Mexico. Through Bob McCoy, a Minnesota pioneer in abortion reform, I learned of a clinic in Mexico City that charged $300 and that Bob had checked out for safety and considerate treatment of women. Abortion was illegal in Mexico (still is), but the practitioners reportedly paid off the chief of police and were able to operate unmolested.
The women I referred to Mexico flew from Chicago at a round-trip cost of $226. They had to spend two nights in Mexico City and while there stayed at the San Jorge Hotel, which was built for the Olympics. They were advised to take about $40 spending money to cover the hotel, their meals, and sightseeing.
Dr. Ponce, who owned the Mexico City clinic, did abortions by the dilation and curettage method, under general anesthesia.(See Appendix A for a discussion of abortion methods.) Women were at the clinic for a morning or afternoon. The extra twenty-four hours in Mexico City was both a health precaution and helped women avoid airport questioning by the immigration people. It did occur to me that patrons having to stay an extra day in Mexico also benefited the hotel, although their rates were relatively modest. Since abortion was illegal, women flying in and out of Mexico in a short time could be subject to questioning about the reason for their trip. We told everyone, if asked, merely to say they were on a short vacation.
Those of us referring women were still under the spell of the old ideas about abortion-that it was a major medical effort with some of the risks of brain surgery-so I was delighted and astonished when one of my early referrals, an intrepid woman, phoned in her report to me. She said she had the abortion in the morning, flew back to Chicago in the afternoon-ignoring the two day stay-and took a bus home to - Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at night, about an eight-hour trip. She felt fine, she said, "just a little tired." Most women reported some discomfort following abortion--nausea from the anesthetic or cramping, similar to menstrual cramping.
Bob McCoy had prepared a sheet of general information about the hotel, meals, and sightseeing, with a little map of the hotel area, information on converting money, cab and subway guidance, and recommendations of restaurants. Places to get carryouts and inexpensive food were suggested, as well as the "Focolare," one of the city's finest restaurants with dinners costing about $8.00. Women were cautioned to watch out for automobile traffic, a far greater hazard than abortion, and aggressive males, a universal hazard.
Someone from the clinic called for the women at the San Jorge Hotel, and chauffeured them for their appointments. In the directions, with medical and clinic information, Bob McCoy and Dr. Ponce had written " . . . after you have been interviewed, you will go upstairs and put on a surgical gown. You may wish to take slippers with you to keep your feet warm." When I first read this in the directions, I almost cried. I was fresh from pleading with Wisconsin doctors to accept especially desperate patients for abortion and had found almost all of them totally indifferent to the plight of any woman, yet here were men who were concerned not only that women should have abortions, but also that they should not have cold feet!
Most of the women I referred to Dr. Ponce phoned in their reports, and without exception they liked him. Ponce was a first name, I believe, not a family name, but it was the only name we knew him by. He interviewed each woman before the abortion and checked out each patient before she left. Somehow, despite the assembly line, he managed to make each woman feel his concern for her.
The clinic was sanitary and comfortable. Here is an excerpt from one report sent in from an out-of- state referral:
Things were really good down in Mexico City. Everything happens so fast there is almost an aura of fantasy. The clinic (more like a mansion really) is very nice and comfortable.
There were about seventeen women there the morning I had the D & C done, plus some in the afternoon. They get you up right after and feed you fruit and drink and cookies right away--helps take your mind off the cramping.
Some of us went sightseeing that afternoon. Mexico City is really nice, and I had no trouble at all with any facet of the journey or my stay there.
One young woman, with whom I spent quite a bit of time before she flew down because she was unusually tense and unhappy, came back calm and relaxed. She gave me all the factual information including the friends she made and the sights she saw, and then added, somewhat apologetically, "You know, in a way it was almost fun." I don't know when a remark has left me more cheerful. I thought of all the women who had been forced to go into dark alleys and back rooms and deal with perverted, unskilled, unsanitary practitioners, and I could only rejoice that for some women abortions were being done in a safe setting with supportive people, and that the whole trip could be "almost fun." Civilization has been a long time finding women.
My referrals in the spring and summer of 1970 had been pretty much happenstance; the women happened to learn that I knew where safe abortions were being done. I had appeared on several radio and television talk shows on the abortion issue, and women called after hearing these or after seeing my name in news stories, or reading letter I wrote to editors.
One letter to me prompted the decision to establish a formal, advertised service. It read:
July 27, 1970
Dear Mrs. Gaylor:
Since I received your letter July 9th many things have happened, and I now have the chance to sit down and thank you for everything you did.
I had written you requesting information on abortion in the State of Wisconsin after reading your letter to the editor in the Appleton Post Crescent.
The next day my fiance came up and he got on the phone immediately. The first doctor he contacted from your list was able to help us. We were in Milwaukee the next morning. I had a physical, and arrangements were made for my admittance to the hospital in less than two weeks. The treatment I received, both the hospital care and personal was more than I could have hoped for. Things haven't been left at that, since I'm under the doctor's care for a future checkup.
I am still amazed at how easily and swiftly things went and how well everyone treated us. If only it weren't so hard to find out about these things in the first place. Of the women I talked to in the hospital, the majority seemed to have found out about the availability of an abortion quite by accident and only after much agonizing about what they were going to do.
In the future if there is anything I can do to help your organization, I will be more than happy to do so. After what has been done for me and my fiance it would be small payment for getting our lives back to normal again and being able to enjoy being engaged and making future plans that won't be marred by the reality of having to bear an unwanted child and making many more lives than our own miserable. Thank you again.
This letter and its reference to women finding out quite by chance and after much worry convinced me to become more visible. I had joined the Zero Population Growth (ZPG) organization because of its supportive position on abortion, and I asked the board of directors of the Madison chapter if they would consider funding advertising of a service, if I would use my own phone number and handle the calls. They readily agreed.
The first ad, placed in the classified "Personal Interest" section of Madison's two daily papers on August 12, 1970, read: "ABORTION is legal and available in Wisconsin. If your doctor won't help, contact the Zero Population Growth Referral Service." The ad included the ZPG post office box and our home phone number. The response was immediate. By the end of the month, in less than three-weeks time, we had received ninety-three calls and the phone has not stopped since.
Ours was the first advertised service in Wisconsin, possibly in the Midwest, and calls came in from surrounding states as well. When Playboy magazine listed several referral numbers around the country, including ours, in one of its issues, I was deluged with calls for months from as far away as Maine, Virginia, Arkansas and points west. Playboy readers called at all hours--one, two and three- thirty A.M. I announced to my patient family that, contrary to popular opinion, Playboy readers rarely went to bed--they phoned people all night long.
There are not too many occasions for chuckling when you are handling abortion referrals, but our children supplied a couple. After a few calls from the first ad, one of our sons remarked, "Well, we don't have to answer 'hello' anymore. We can just say, 'How far along are you?' " And, after the United States Supreme Court decision in 1973, legalizing abortion, when my phone calls jumped to 140 in a single week, the kids came out one day with an unusual observation. Commenting on my practice of answering the phone by number, 238-3338, and my chances for survival, they said, `We've decided on your epitaph. We're going to put on your tombstone, 'Here lies 238-3338.' "
Since I couldn't be home all of the time, other Madison ZPG women helped with the service. In all, a couple of dozen women have handled calls, for periods of anywhere from a few weeks to a few months time, using their home phone numbers as back-up numbers in our ads. Especially helpful in the early days were Gail Winkler, then president of ZPG in Madison, Donna Anderson, Martha Maxwell and Barbara Banchero.
I kept a log of telephone calls for the referral service, primarily to keep a record of the number of calls, where they were coming from, ages of the women, and notes on contraceptive failures. Since so many days the calls came thick and fast, the entries really were very sketchy, and some days I resorted to a simple tally. Typical entries read: "Rockford, 20, kids 3-2-6 months, pregnant on foam." "Chicago, 29, kids 8-6-4-2-1, went off the pill, could pay $100 down." "Holmen, Wis., 25, sounded 50, three children, problems with hemorrhaging, needs abortion and wants tubal ligation, 'can't get any help around here,' gave Milwaukee hospitals." "Richland Center mom for 15-year old, needs D & C, gave UW Hospital."
Any ideas I may have harbored about a typical abortion patient vanished when the phone began to ring in earnest. The stereotype of the abortion candidate is that of a young, single woman, working or in college. I heard from that stereotype, but I heard almost as often from the married woman. Almost daily women called who could not take care of the children they already had, or who had grave medical problems compounded by repeated pregnancies. From the beginning I heard regularly from victims of rape and victims of incest. I heard from teen-agers who were pathetically young, who were children themselves by every standard except that of fertility.
Very early in my referral experience a doctor with whom I was pleading for help told me, "Well, you can refer me the really desperate cases." I said to him what had become only too terribly clear to me, "They are all desperate."
Letters came in to the ZPG post office box, too, and the first one, so typical of those to follow, was from rural Wisconsin and written on a scrap of yellow paper.
Dear Sirs: Please send me information on the laws that would cover our situation. My wife and I have nine children from 16 to 2 in age. We own our own home, but I have to work 70 hours a week to keep things going. Is there any doctors that will at least talk to us on abortion? Any information will be helpful because my wife is three months along again. H.B.
Abortion became legal in New York state on July 1, 1970. Miraculously, the pro-abortion groups there had forced a reform law through their legislature, and the dramatic victory meant that New York would go from a situation where they had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, to a situation where they had one of the most liberal.
The immediate effect was a logjam. Women from all over the country went to New York for abortions. Clinics and hospitals were booked out of sight, and it was the end of 1970 before waits were down to a somewhat reasonable two-week delay. Quality and costs varied greatly at the different facilities, and women pretty much took potluck the first few months. Later, through Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies, a non-profit New York city clinic was established with a charge of $150, soon to be reduced to $125. I also referred to the Eastern Women's Center when it opened in 1971, charging $150.
Here is one typical report from that period:
It's fantastic being able to control your own self and destiny. Yesterday I flew from O'Hare to LaGuardia in New York and had an abortion at the office you suggested. The aspirator is relatively painless and one of the doctor's assistants, a very understanding girl, stands by you for the entire procedure, which, in my case, took less than fifteen minutes.
The fee for me was $100 and certainly the most worthwhile $100 I have ever spent. Thank you so much for your most valuable referral.
And here is another:
Dear Mrs. Gaylor:
I previously contacted you for referrals concerning abortion clinics. I was admitted to the Women's Medical Group in New York in January.
I was admitted to a room where my blood test and urine specimen were obtained. My friends were directed to a waiting room downstairs. I sat in the waiting room approximately two hours talking with girls having appointments also. Then a counsellor came and took me to an office where I was given pills and relaxed. We talked about the abortion procedure, post-operative feelings, complications, my feelings and fears, for about an hour.
Then she took me upstairs again where I had the operation in fifteen minutes, rested a half hour and went home.
The counseling was excellent and she stayed with me through everything, even assisting the physician. She, too, had had an abortion, which made for greater understanding.
If complications should arise, their collect phone number is given to each woman, along with brochures containing abortion post-op and complication information and birth-control methods. It was worth far more to me than $150.
Madison got it its own abortion facility, the Midwest Medical Center, in February, 1971, the only outpatient clinic in the country between -the east and west coasts. It was opened by Dr. Alfred Kennan, its only doctor, and it was almost immediately swamped with patients. Dr. Kennan did abortions by vacuum aspiration, utilizing gentle suction to empty the uterus and employing a local anesthetic, in contrast to the traditional hospital procedure of dilation and curettage done under general anesthesia. Although the clinic could accept only a tiny fraction of the women seeking appointments, it was a haven for about ninety to one hundred patients per week in the early months, a schedule later increased to 120-125 weekly.
The clinic had been open for about eleven weeks when Madison police in a sudden, Gestapo-like raid, closed it. The raid seemed particularly insane, in light of the federal court ruling that Wisconsin's old abortion statute was unconstitutional, and the permanent injunction that had been issued, saying no Wisconsin doctor could be prosecuted for doing an early abortion.
About this time Gail Winkler of ZPG and I were subpoenaed to appear for an interrogation conducted by the attorney general's office, on behalf of the State Board of Medical Examiners, who were after Dr. Kennan's license. Their methods and their questions had us wondering if we lived in Wisconsin or a banana republic.
Both Gail and I received our subpoenas during the dinner hour at night, telling us to appear before the Board early the next morning. Although the hearing had been scheduled for some time, and we were obviously busy people, the Board saw fit to give us only a few hours notice. There was little time to contact an attorney--Gail never had had occasion to consult one before, and the lawyer who had handled some business affairs for me happened to be out of town. There was not even time to go to the law library to read the law we were being subpoenaed under. Fortunately, a friend phoned to suggest an attorney, whom we met for the first time outside the Board of Medical Examiners' offices early the next morning. And we stayed outside. Two uniformed armed guards stood at the door, and we were told we would be called when we were needed. We waited in the hot sun for almost three hours. The attorney, young and kind, whose name I don't remember and who never sent us a bill, had come with a law book under his arm, and in checking our subpoenas discovered we had been subpoenaed under a portion of the law requiring that a judge be present to grant us immunity. When finally--hot, tired and sunburned-- we were admitted to the presence of the Board, our lawyer asked the prosecutor from the attorney general's office, who was presiding, where the judge was. The attorney general's assistant seemed taken aback, implying that this was an informal, friendly little session and no judge was needed. When our attorney pointed to the citation on our subpoena and the corresponding number in the statute book, the attorney general's assistant said that the subpoena was in error, that a different part of the law was really being referred to, that it was a "typographical error." Our lawyer responded that since the subpoena said what it did, he could only advise us to answer questions before a judge, and since no judge was present, he was advising us not to answer questions at all.
Gail and I were interrogated separately, and both of us took the Fifth Amendment to a long series of inane questions. At the end we were told we would be "bound over to court to answer before a judge," an event that never took place. The interrogator apparently was trying to link the ZPG Referral Service to Dr. Kerman's clinic, so that Dr. Kerman might be accused of advertising. There was no link. Not only did the Referral Service precede the clinic by half a year, but no able doctor who did abortions in 1971 had any need to advertise. All he had to do was open, and the whole country beat a path to his door.
After six weeks of court maneuvers, when Attorney General Robert Warren had been put down at every court level, the clinic finally reopened, but the cost to the 324 women who had appointments when it was closed has never been tabulated. I spoke personally with about forty-five of these women and I am still haunted by their stories, their anguish, and their helplessness. My loathing for the men who perpetrated these harassments does not lessen with time, although I am happy to report that District Attorney Gerald Nichol was defeated for reelection in 1972. Attorney General Robert Warren, however, was appointed to the post of federal judge in Wisconsin's Eastern District, Richard Nixon's last official act before being forced from the Presidency. It figures!
The chapter that follows is an account of the raid written originally for the ZPG-Madison newsletter, and later expanded into an article for the ZPG National Reporter. The chapter titled "The Victims," which also appeared in the National Reporter, was my testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the Wisconsin Assembly, which held hearings on abortion the day after the clinic reopened.
Reproduced from Abortion is a Blessing by Anne Nicol Gaylor.
(This chapter first appeared as part of an article in the July, 1971, ZPG National Reporter. Originally titled "Abortion in Wisconsin?", it is reprinted with permission.)
IN THE FACE OF ... HOSTILITY, and almost in the shadow of the Capitol, one courageous doctor chose to open an outpatient abortion facility. Dr. Alfred L. Kennan, a gynecologist, resigned his academic post as professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in January, 1971, and on February 1 opened Wisconsin's first outpatient clinic, the Midwest Medical Center in Madison.
The legal basis for his action was a decision of a three judge federal court, sitting in Milwaukee, which had said in March, 1970, that the state of Wisconsin could not deprive a woman of making her private decision on whether or not to carry an unquickened fetus. The court followed its decision some months later with a permanent injunction, saying that the state of Wisconsin might not prosecute "any Wisconsin doctor" for performing abortions in early pregnancy. This injunction, upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, seemed a plausible legal basis for proceeding.
Soon after its opening in February, the clinic was booked three weeks ahead, about as far ahead as abortion appointments realistically can be made. About a hundred patients a week were accepted, also a maximum for a one-doctor clinic. Although there were rumblings of official and unofficial displeasure, including a march on the Dane County District Attorney's office by a group of so-called "right-to-lifers," demanding that the clinic be closed, it operated unmolested for two and one-half months.
Then, quite suddenly, on Monday, April 19, at three o'clock in the afternoon, several policemen and women descended on the clinic. Bursting into offices and procedure rooms, they grabbed all records and equipment, and forcibly took with them a terrified seventeen-year-old girl, ignoring a clinic counselor's plea that she be allowed to accompany her. Asked if they were arresting the girl, they said they were, and she was taken to a Madison hospital where she was forcibly examined against her will. Minors in Wisconsin have no rights.
Although the raid was conducted on Monday, formal, charges were not made until late Wednesday, when Dr. Kennan, two nurses, and the Center's two counselors were charged with criminal abortion.
The clinic's phones were wild on Tuesday with all five lines tied up by patients trying to check appointments and asking what they should do. Eight or nine women came in to the clinic with their friends or family on Tuesday, unaware of the raid. One of the first patients had been driving since three o'clock in the morning to be on time for her appointment. An afternoon patient had driven from the Mankato area in Minnesota, some 300 miles away. None of the patients could be notified by the clinic in advance, because the appointment book had been taken in the raid. Over 300 women had made appointments.
The raid was ordered by Dane County District Attorney Gerald Nichol, on the basis of a complaint by a Minnesota woman. The woman had phoned Madison police the week before to say she believed her runaway daughter was on her way to Madison for an abortion. Madison policemen picked up the girl and her friend after they left the clinic on the Friday before the raid, taking them to the station for questioning. A search-and-seizure warrant was then secured in county court and the raid was on.
Liberal Madison was stunned and angered. Even many who had not spoken previously for abortion condemned the ruthless tactics utilized in the raid. An editor of Madison's liberal newspaper, the Capital Times, pointed out that the clinic was not a hidey-hole operation, but an open, aboveboard, highly visible clinic, providing safe abortions done by an eminently qualified specialist in pleasant supportive surroundings.
A rally outside the district attorney's office at noon on the day following the raid drew 200 people, many of them ZPG'ers. On Thursday, the day of the arraignment of the clinic's personnel, about 350 supporters of the clinic were on hand, at ZPG's behest, to continue the peaceful protest.
Groups of doctors, medical students, nursing students, and clergymen joined to sign and release formal publicized protests. ZPG petitions circulated and rapidly were filled.
New York clinics stretched crowded calendars to take dozens of the clinic's cancelled patients, with rates adjusted in many cases.
And then, the Monday after the raid, the action moved to Federal Judge James Doyle's court where Dr. Kennan had applied on April 20 for injunctive relief. Judge Doyle heard arguments for an order to restrain the state from prosecution of the clinic staff, and to convene a three-judge federal panel to hear the case. A pregnant woman, who had an appointment at the clinic, joined in with a legal class action on behalf of all women who had planned to use the clinic.
Spectators overflowed all chairs and benches and were allowed to take seats in the jury box. The audience was orderly except at two points--once when District Attorney Gerald Nichol entered the courtroom (what did he expect?), and again when an assistant attorney general, Mary Bowman (can she be for real?) said: "If giving birth to unwanted children is irreparable harm, then women in Wisconsin and all over the country have been surviving it for over 120 years."
There was an air of buoyancy in the courtroom at the close of the proceedings. Judge Doyle's kind manner and his words "You will have my decision by noon tomorrow", sent clinic-boosters home to sleep well for the first time since the raid.
He didn't quite make his noon deadline, but it didn't matter because Judge Doyle's decision was to restrain the state from its prosecution, order the equipment returned to the clinic, and call for the three-judge panel to rule on the law.
Friends of the clinic didn't get a chance to celebrate however, because other legal actions followed before the clinic could open, including an effort by the State Board of Medical Examiners (in effect, an arm of the attorney general) to suspend Dr. Kennan's license, a civil action instigated by the attorney general and filed in county court, and a try by the city to keep the clinic closed on a zoning charge. These legal obstacles took a few weeks to beat down, with able assists from Judge Doyle in the form of restraining orders. The clinic finally reopened on May 24, 1971.
Its future is very uncertain, but its past is clearly quite noble, and ZPG-Wisconsin gave its Humanitarian Award, 1971, to Dr. Alfred L. Kennan for "his courage and compassion in founding the Midwest Medical Center."
(Testimony given at the abortion hearing of the judiciary Committee, Wisconsin Assembly, May 25, 1971.)
WHAT HAPPENS when an abortion clinic closes? When Dane County District Attorney Gerald Nichol ruthlessly closed Madison's Midwest Medical Center on April 19, 1971, he set into motion a chain of tragic events whose total effect may never be known. Lawmakers, so prone to investigate everything, could be investigating these tragedies, but of course they are not. At least they can listen; they can listen to what happened to one Wisconsin girl.
This girl had an appointment at the Midwest Medical Center the week it was closed. She and her boyfriend had read about the clinic in their local papers, and although they had only a little money they were able to arrange an appointment for a partial fee. When the clinic was raided, they were all but paralyzed, because they had no knowledge of where else to turn. At first they procrastinated, then the boy made several calls to hospitals and doctors, but they were all abrupt with him. Those who talked to him at all talked about the high cost of a hospital abortion, the need for parental consent, the legal uncertainties. They suggested no other alternatives of places to go and the young couple's despair deepened.
The boy and girl had come to each other from backgrounds of parental rejection; the girl had run away from her home. They had both been hurt, they had been unhappy in their home life. In each other they seemed to find some measure of security and acceptance, of uncritical love, something they had never had.
Although the boy had no thought of abandoning the girl, she became terribly depressed. She could only think that each day she was getting farther and farther along into this unwanted pregnancy, and what a terrible burden she was becoming to the boy. He was the only one she had to cling to and she was afraid. So one night, without the boy's knowledge, she took a last desperate way out of her problem. She took a wire coat hanger and jabbed it into her uterus. Toward morning, when the pain became too much to bear, she told the boy what she had done and he went to get help for her.
Now because he was very young and frightened, he did not call the logical people to call in an emergency- -a doctor or a hospital. You will remember they had rejected him. before. He did not call the police because he actually, feared he and his girl would be arrested. He phoned collect to a clergyman in a town a hundred miles away, who was the only person he felt he could trust, and this man put him in touch with a counselor in his own city.
The counselor came out and convinced the boy that his fears of legal retribution were overblown, and that the girl was in very serious condition. She helped him take her to a hospital.
But they were too late. The girl had punctured her uterus with the hanger, she had bled excessively, and she died in the hospital a few hours later.
Last night I talked to the counselor who was with the girl when she died, and she asked me to convey a message to you. Tell the legislators, she said, that it is a terrible thing to watch a young girl die, and to know that her death was unnecessary, a total waste. Tell them how terrible it is that anyone should have to lose her life because of fear, because everyone who could help her was too intimidated by our unjust law to give her the help she needed. Let them know about this girl's family, who last saw her warm and alive and now will see her always as something dead, to be carried out and disposed of. Tell them about this boy who had to be physically restrained from destroying himself when he realized his girl was dying. Don't let them sit there and debate abortion, without knowing the tragedies that occur when abortion is not available. Let them know about this girl-one girl's death is one too many....
When the Midwest Medical Center was closed in April, 324 women had appointments there. Where did they all go? What could they do?
Many of them who could afford to go to New York City went to clinics and hospitals there. A handful were accepted in Wisconsin hospitals.
Five or six of them, without much money, wound up in an old house in Milwaukee where, they reported, a drunken pervert made sexual advances toward them before giving them botched abortions. At least two of these women were hospitalized in serious condition.
And what of the others? Consider one case, a Madison woman of twenty-three. The woman is not married, she never has been married. She already has three children, five, three, and one. She is enrolled in a program to help her to complete her schooling and learn a trade, so that she may become employable. This woman could barely afford Madison's clinic, even at an adjusted rate of $58. She could never afford to go to New York City. Now past the time when abortion is simple, safe, and relatively inexpensive, she will be quitting her training. She will have a fourth unwanted child that, will have to be supported to maturity by others. And her last hope to be anything but a breeding machine may be gone forever.
And what about the Rock County woman, the married mother of eight children, who cries throughout conversations because she is so desperate about another unwanted pregnancy? She could afford the $50 the clinic had arranged to charge her--there is no one else in the country try she could go to with her $50.
And what about the young Milwaukee woman, married, with three children, five, four, and three? Her husband is, unemployed. She works for $1.26 an hour in a burger joint. She is pregnant--she cannot afford to be pregnant--her family needs her income. She is too late now for an outpatient abortion-- what is she to do? What is her family to do? What is our society going to do when it cannot take care of the unwanted children already born?
Wisconsin women are going to have abortions. If they have enough money they are going to travel to states where it is available. If they do not, they are going to seek out the incompetent, unsafe abortionists, or attempt to abort themselves.
This legislature cannot stop the tide of abortion reform or the acceptance by women of abortion. You can only succeed in making it dangerous or inconvenient or expensive for them. In the cases where you are able to make it impossible to get, you will be adding the burden, both social and financial, of unwanted children to our state.
Women are going to be free. They are going to determine their reproductive lives as they wish; this is the essence of dignity and personal freedom. No one can know better than a woman herself whether it is best for her to bear a child. In a world that cannot possibly take care of the children it already has, what folly to force unwilling women to bear unwanted children.
Abortion is going to be legalized in Wisconsin. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Humane men and women will work to legalize it now, so that women's suffering and death may be avoided.
OVER THE YEARS a few hundred letters have been written to the ZPG Referral Service in Madison, requesting abortion referral information.
Most of them are brief: "I would like information on abortions. I am forty-eight, married, and for health reasons cannot bear another child." Or, "Please send me some (any) information on abortion. I cannot phone you as it's a party line." And, "Read your personal interest ad in the paper that abortion is legal and available. Would you please send us more information on this. I'm married and we have seven children now." And, "We would very much appreciate any information you might be able to provide concerning abortion for the mother of a family that is presently sufficient."
Parents also wrote:
Can you please help us? We have an eighteen year-old daughter that is seven weeks pregnant...She is four months from graduating from high school and if the school finds out she is pregnant they will kick her out. She is also accepted at a college and wants to go very bad.
Now that abortion is legal in Wisconsin we thought we could get a doctor to do it. Everyone we talked to refused. . . . We have to have some help soon and make some definite plans for her, or she might look for help by herself, and I'm afraid of what would happen. She is our only child, and we don't want anything to happen to her. Please try and help us....
Desperation is conveyed in a great many of the letters.
Since I've never done this before I really don't know what to ask. I am pregnant, five weeks, and I definitely cannot have a baby. My family and my job would be over. . . . Please, I am almost going crazy. I don't know what to do any more. I need some kind of information very soon.
I am twenty-four and found out yesterday I am pregnant. . . . I have made up my mind an abortion is the only answer as the man I am pregnant by is the guy I have been going with for four years, but in that four years he has only worked three months and I know he won't change. Also, he is half black, and even if I wanted a baby, it wouldn't be fair to the baby. It is hard enough making it in this world without being part black and without a father and without a decent home.
Anyway, I have made up my mind that it's the only solution and want it done as soon as possible. Please help me as I haven't told anyone except you. Please call me collect as soon as you get this letter.... I need help soon!
Please, please help me. I am absolutely sure I am pregnant, but I cannot possibly have a baby. It would not only postpone indefinitely completion of my much loved college work, but my having a child would bring untold problems to my parents, both of whom are prominent members of this community.... The man is at his home, 300 miles away, so I am as usual when it comes to an abortion, alone. Please help me.
I found your address in a Planned Parenthood booklet, and I would like to know if you can help somebody like me. I just found out that I am pregnant and I am eighteen and a half and unmarried. I can't tell my parents because it would hurt them too much and also because I am scared.. . . Please help me. I am so scared I don't know what I am going to do.
Sometime ago I heard your comments on the radio about legalizing abortion, agreeing with you all the way. I am a widow, fifty years old, and find that I am two months pregnant. I am putting two children through college with one other at home. You could write me or call me, but the only thing in telephoning is that someone would be listening in as they do in a small town. Please try to help me-the sooner the better. Thank you.
Here are a couple of reports:
I had wanted to write you earlier and thank you for your most gracious and kind assistance on the phone .... I was truly very desperate and so very sick .... The type of surgery was absolutely unexpected since I was given total anesthesia, thus feeling no pain or cramps. I had expected from my past experience six years ago in Chicago to be in great pain.. . . Again, my deep thanks for your efforts on women's behalf.
I want to thank you for your prompt reply to my letter and for the information given me. I don't think I have ever felt so down in my life, but when I arrived at the clinic in Madison they made me feel so at ease and they were so very kind to me that I shall never forget it....
I think the following letter from a young married woman in rural Dane County is my favorite. Surely no document of its size ever radiated more appreciation cheerfulness, and good will. The hospital I referred her to required a psychiatric note stating that an abortion was necessary for her life and health, hence the reference to the psychiatrist.
Dear Mrs. Gaylor:
I am writing to inform you that my abortion was a great success.
I went first to the psychiatrist and got a letter the same day I went to him. He was very kind in every respect.
I called the doctor you suggested the same day, and he told me to come to Milwaukee as soon as I could. That doctor is just a fabulous person, and I would recommend him to anyone who has to have an abortion. I went into the hospital the fourth of September, had surgery the fifth and came home the sixth. The surgery was a D & C with a general anesthetic. The hospital was everything a hospital should be: very clean and everyone on the staff was so very nice. I was so impressed by the hospital that I wrote a nice thank-you card to them for the many kindnesses they showed me while in the hospital.
I had no pain after surgery or when I got home. Once in a while I had a slight twinge, but it didn't amount to anything. All I can report about the doctor and hospital is that I can't say enough good things about my experience.
I would like to thank you so very much for being so nice and willing to help me in my time of need.
This gracefully expressed letter came from a sixteen year old girl for whom I had scoured the state seeking a doctor to help her.
Dear Mrs. Gaylor,
I've wanted to write so many times before, but never knowing what or how to say thank you, which seems hardly enough to one who has done so much, I have put it off until now. For this, I am very sorry.
I have so much to be thankful for and all of this I owe to you. This summer would have been so difficult for me if you hadn't taken the time to help me. Instead these past few months have been so wonderful. I find myself appreciating even the little things that I am able to do, knowing that without your help I couldn't be doing much except hiding at home.
Next month I am going to visit my father. I know I wouldn't have been able to face him if I had been pregnant. You see, he expects so much of me, as most fathers do of their daughters, and I just couldn't have hurt him like that. I know I should have thought of that a long time ago, but unfortunately I didn't stop to think about anyone but myself.
Some people say that sooner or later I'll regret having had an abortion, but I know that if I had gone through with my pregnancy there would have been much, much more to regret.
Now I can start over, a much wiser and I hope, more mature person. So many girls don't get a second chance. Thank you for mine.
And, last, a most untypical note from a harried young man seeking information for his girlfriend:
Dear ZPG: I am the dummy who meant to send you a request for information and sent you my sociology lecture notes instead. Here is the letter I meant to send. J.B.
ONE OF THE COUNSELORS at the Midwest Medical Center in Madison phoned me late one Friday afternoon to say a woman with two babies had come into the clinic at closing time. She had come up on the bus from St. Louis and needed a place to stay, since she had neither the energy nor money to return to St. Louis and come back to Madison the next week.
Our daughter, Annie Laurie, started putting her room to rights to receive company, and I drove over to the clinic to pick up the patient, Nancy Belle, and her babies.
Nancy was black, from the St. Louis ghetto, and she told me she had missed the bus she intended to catch, hardly surprising when you're traveling with two babies and have no one to help you. She couldn't decide whether to return to her apartment or wait for another bus, but she thought she might never get up her courage again, so she waited for the next bus with her babies, a boy two, and a girl, eight months.
On our way home I learned she had two other children who were staying with relatives in another city, one four years old and one three.
Nancy was twenty-one. Although she was bright and quick and wanted to work, the only job she had ever held was as a temporary clerk in a warehouse. She had drop out of school during her second year of high school when she became pregnant, and at that point, if not earlier, her life's script was written for her.
Nancy was only repeating what she knew. She was one of eight or nine children from a home that had never had a permanent father. Hers was the life style of the young single woman as she knew it. Only Nancy was a little more courageous than most. She had heard that there was an abortion clinic in Madison, so when she found out she was pregnant again, she took her babies, got on a bus, a came to get an abortion.
Nancy lived in an especially dreary and dangerous section of St. Louis. She said she never went out without gun in her purse and tried never to go out at night at all. Despite the gun, she had been robbed once of her rent money. Like most of her friends, she subsisted on Aid for Dependent Children (ADC).
We borrowed a crib from neighbors for her baby girl to sleep in, and she told us it was the first time any of her four babies had ever slept in a crib. She thought our old-fashioned kitchen was the height of style, and she had never tasted some of the ordinary foods we had. Her health showed the effects of five years of chronic childbearing. Thin and frail, she suffered from an ulcer and an as asthmatic condition, both triggered by pregnancy. Part of her weekend with us she nursed a throbbing tooth.
We liked Nancy very much and we loved her babies, but we worried about her two-year-old boy. She never smiled at him the whole weekend, and whenever she spoke to him, it was to admonish him. He seemed to be the focal point on which she could release all her tensions and frustrations and when he wet himself, quite natural for a two- year-old in strange surroundings, she spanked him with viciousness quite out of proportion.
So here was Nancy Belle with children aged four, three, two, and eight months. No one had ever said to her, when you have babies so close together you not only harm yourself, you cheat them in health and you cheat them in brains and you cheat them in love. And what could she have done if she had known?
Had there not been an abortion clinic in Madison and had Nancy Belle not had the extra gumption to get there, she would have had five children at age twenty-one, or perhaps the ghetto abortionist might have had another victim.
We sent a couple of letters and cards to Nancy--she had no phone--but we didn't hear from her for about a year. She had never been able to stay on the pill because of the bad side effects, so she used her Medical Card to have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted a few weeks after her abortion. Then the IUD caused a serious uterine infection and she had to be hospitalized for a week.
Now she was writing because she was pregnant again, only, happily, in the year's interval abortion had been legalized by the United States Supreme Court and she could be referred to a safe clinic near her home.
Her dilemma, in a sense the dilemma of women everywhere, has me perpetually outraged with our society, which has money to supply much of the world with armaments, to fly to the moon, to print millions of unwanted pamphlets on strange subjects, to engage in all manner of inane bureaucratic wheelspinning, yet will not give priority to the search for contraception that is safe and reliable.
An important postcript: Dr. Kennan of the Midwest Medical Center in Madison did Nancy's abortion for free as he has done so many others. Although the clinic was closed on Saturdays at that time, he came in that Saturday morning to do the abortion for her.
When I drove Nancy to catch her bus back to St. Louis after her weekend with us, I glanced over at her little boy sitting on my daughter's lap. Still under the effect of a spanking for his bad toilet habits, he was subdued and tearful. When I lifted him on to the bus, he turned and clung to my hands, a tiny victim in the pathetic cycle of unwanted children producing more unwanted children.
* * * *
Eileen was never more to me than a small voice on other end of the long-distance line, but as her story unfolded she seemed to symbolize the great wrongs that doctors, hospitals, church and state have inflicted on women.
She was in her late thirties, in a fifteenth pregnancy. She had eight or nine living children; her other pregnancies had resulted in stillbirths or miscarriages. She had all the ailments associated with excess childbearing-varicose veins, pernicious vomiting, kidney and bladder problems. Although her last four births had been by Caesarean she had been denied the tubal ligation she asked at the time of her last delivery.
For readers unfamiliar with these terms a Caesarean section is a major operation, in which a large incision is made through a woman's abdomen and uterus to baby when she cannot deliver normally. At the time a Caesarean is done, since the abdomen is already open, it is very simple for a doctor to do a tubal ligation or sterliziation, cutting the Fallopian tubes, so the woman's eggs no longer reach her uterus. Because of the large wound, a Caesarean patient is usually hospitalized ten days. After leaving the hospital she must return to her doctor reguarly for checkups, until the wound is totally healed. Most physicians recommend tubal ligations after three Caesareans since there is risk in future pregnancies of rupture of the much-scarred uterus. Such a rupture usually results in death. A tubal ligation done at the time of a Caesarea section does not add to the woman's hospital stay, to the surgical risk, or to her bill; so it is practical from ever standpoint to have it done at the time of a Caesar section.
Eileen and her husband both worked to support their large family. A latecomer to the pill because of her Catholicism she had had to give it up because it made her constantly nauseous. Now she was pregnant again. She couldn't afford to be pregnant because she needed to work. She could not face another pregnancy physically, let alone another Caesarean. Her Catholic upbringing left her poorly prepared to deal with abortion, but she was calling because she knew, as I knew, that she was fighting for her life.
The Midwest Medical Center was booked three weeks ahead at that time, but Dr. Kennan agreed to take her as an extra patient. He came back at night to do the abortion for her, working her in very promptly since she was already at ten weeks, the cutoff for the suction abortion method.
So much of my time in the past few years has been spent helping people pick up the pieces of their lives that never should have been pieces in the first place. Any woman, let alone a woman who has had four Caesareans, has every right to have a tubal ligation if she wants one, and the doctor and hospital who deny it to her should have their respective licenses revoked. Eileen did not want an abortion any more than Nancy wanted an abortion; no woman wants an abortion. But women will continue to have abortions until society recognizes their need for sure, safe contraception, and until all hospitals offer access to permanent birth control through sterilization.
Among my referrals has been one other woman in a fifteenth pregnancy. She, like Eileen, had had several of the pregnancies end in stillbirth or miscarriage; she, luckily, had had only two Caesareans. It is a terrible commentary on the calibre of the medical profession in Wisconsin that these women should have had to endure what they endured. They both had obstetrical histories that would have elicited sympathy from a stone, yet their physicians would not help them. These abominable doctors would rather have their women patients suffer and risk death than do a simple, safe, sensible tubal ligation for them.
* * * *
I have referred so many women with so many great problems-medical, financial, social-that it is difficult to sort out the unforgettables. In a sense, as individuals, they are all unforgettable. I have referred twelve- and thirteen- year-olds for abortions and I have referred a grandmother, the oldest fifty-two. Women I've referred have represented every social and economic class and they have ranged in attitude from the organized, composed matron who could say, "Cost is no problem," to the totally disorganized teen-aged girl who sobbed, "I'm pregnant and I don't want a baby and I don't have any money and my boyfriend has left town and what am I going to do?"
It saddened me that so many of the women seeking abortions had physical problems which meant that never should have been pregnant at all. So many women had diabetes, or heart conditions, or epilepsy. One women had two children both with serious heart defects could expect another child to have the same disbility. Another woman who called from St. Louis had a blind baby, and her doctor had told her the chances were fifty-fifty that this pregnancy would result in another blind child. Bone-marrow disease was a defect in another family that the woman could expect to transmit to a child. For all of these women it was an undeniable blessing that the were oases of help in Madison, Wisconsin, and New York City, where they could go for safe, legal abortions.
The callers I couldn't help are unforgettable too; many of these were mothers of large families. There is a woman in Madison who phoned me when she was twenty-four and had five children. After the birth of the fifth child she got birth-control pills from a doctor, but her husband found them and threw them away, saying no one was going to tell him how many children he could have. When she phoned she was four months pregnant. Had we been able to get her into University Hospital in Madison for the late abortion (which we couldn't, since they take only a few and are always booked ahead), there still would have been the problem of husband's consent and money. In New York where a husband's signature is not so commonly required by hospitals, she would have been accepted, but how could we come up with the large amount of money needed to get her there?
Another mother of ten children told me that after the birth of her last baby she wanted to take the pill, but her husband, a staunch Catholic, would not let her. Here was another woman who called too late for outpatient care; we could do nothing for her, since a Madison hospital abortion would have required her husband's signature and financial help. Again, the hassle and expense of going to New York made that out of the question.
One rural woman I referred told me that because of her husband the only birth control method she could use was rhythm, and they had had seven children that way. Her husband was employed only seasonally, so in addition to just not being able to face another pregnancy she was burdened with great financial worries. She had pleaded with her doctor to help her with contraception, but he told her she was "healthy as a horse and could have ten more." She had the abortion, as many mothers of large families have had, without her husband's or her doctor's knowledge.
There was the young woman with four kids, three and one-half, two and one-half, one and one-half and three months. She had begged her doctor to do a tubal ligation at the time of her last delivery, but he had refused her, saying, "Dear, I'm surprised you would even think of it. Anyway, you're only twenty- three." This gem of a physician, the only one in her community, didn't believe in contraception either. Fortunately, she was in time for a clinic abortion.
Some days the phone calls were not only unforgettable, but they made me feel like a Madison outpost for Guinness World Records. One morning I referred a thirty-two-year old woman with eleven children, all single births. Another woman, twenty-five, had seven children, the oldest six. Besides the six-year- old there were five-year-old twins, a four-year old, three-year-old twins and a ten-month-old baby. One fifteen-year-old girl I referred already had had two Caesareans.
Rape and incest calls were commonplace, but I soon learned that rape by strangers is far less common than rape by relatives. I referred teen-agers impregnated by their fathers, their stepfathers, their brothers, their half brothers, their brothers-in-law, their uncles and their cousins. There were days when I decided Wisconsin was just one big Peyton Place.
I also made the discovery that a certain amount of rape goes on within many marriages. Over the years I talked to a dozen Catholic mothers of large families who said in essentially the same words: "I could do without sex. I would have done without sex rather than take a chance on another pregnancy, but my husband couldn't." Slavery, of sorts, is still with us.
Among my family's unforgettables was the fragile, beautiful African woman who came on the bus from Michigan and stayed with us the night before her early-morning appointment at the clinic. Her husband, a graduate student, would have had to drop out of school if she had had another child.
We remember Francie who came down from northern Wisconsin with her six-months-old baby and stayed at our house. Francie's recollections of her delivery were only too vivid; her doctor did not believe in any anesthetic, and Francie, although she was a strong, athletic young woman, still reacted with terror to the thought of her particularly painful and exhausting delivery, au naturel. Since she obviously in need of reassurance, I told her I knew the doctor with whom she had her appointment, Dr. Jovanovic would keep her comfortable during the abortion but I saw she was still apprehensive. On the way to the doctor's office to pick her up after her appointment, I hoped I hadn't overdone the reassurance; women have such different thresholds of pain. But abortion was easy for Francie. When she saw me she smiled and said, "I didn't feel a thing"--music to my ears.
Once I asked John Carr, who was business manager of the Midwest Medical Center in 1972-73 during its very busiest times, if he had an unforgettable patient. During, that time John was seeing about 120 patients a week, all kinds of possibilities. Since I knew that out of every one hundred patients, the clinic could expect two to be victims of rape and three to be victims of incest, I expected him to refer to one of these. Unhesitatingly John said that there was a married couple whom he would never forget. They came in to the clinic from northern Wisconsin and their poverty was very apparent. They had ten children at home. John said they were fat, the unhealthy fat of years of living on surplus starchy foods, and their teeth were rotting from lack of care. His office soon filled with the aroma emanating from stale, unwashed clothes and unwashed bodies. They were nice people, John said. They were well- meaning, likeable people. Yet they were caught in the vicious trap of poverty because they had not been able to stop having babies.
THE SHRILLNESS OF THE antiabortion clamor in this country has not lessened with the United States Supreme Court decision in 1973. Those opposed to a woman's right to choose abortion, primarily members of the Catholic Church and various fundamentalist sects, have announced that their ultimate goal is the overthrow of the decision through constitutional amendment. In the meantime, their strategy is to weaken its impact through the passage of unconstitutional bills at the state and national level, which then must go through the long, laborious process of challenge in the courts.
That the antiabortion forces have numbers and money is not in doubt. They have lobbying offices in Washington D.C., and a national monthly newspaper devoted entirely to antiabortion news. They have had the resources to publish antiabortion books and place them in tens of thousands of schools and libraries, to run full page "fetus ads" in newspapers across the country, and to finance public relations gimmickry such as smothering the Capitol in roses signifying "lost lives"--embryonic lives, naturally, not women's lives. Their demonstrations at state capitals and in Washington D.C. have drawn substantial crowds. The various antiabortion bills and riders, especially those in the restriction of physicians' access to public and private hospitals for purposes of performing abortions and sterilizations, have been somewhat successful.
But their blitz, the big fight, the passage through Congress of an amendment to the Federal constitution to ban abortions, has made only noise, not progress. And hopefully it will continue to spin its wheels, as more individuals and groups speak out on behalf of the right to choose abortion.
Every day that abortion is legal and available in this country new adherents are gained for its continued legality. All Americans, including antiabortionists, have been able to see for themselves that abortion can become a private decision for a woman and her physician, and the world does not fall apart; in fact, it becomes a healthier, kinder, saner, less punitive place. Most counselors, social workers, clergypersons, or members of the medical community who finally deal firsthand with the reality of abortion become quiet converts. That we could return to the useless devastation of women's lives that was the norm before abortion availability seems unthinkable now.
But no freedom ever comes easily, nor is it retained without constant vigilance. Women must work to protect and extend their right to choose abortion. Pendulums swing and the swing toward women's rights could be countered, unless groups supporting women's freedom make it clear once and for all that a woman's uterus is not a political football.
Advocates of the right to choose abortion have too often allowed their opponents' tactics of distortion to go unchallenged. Chronically, antiabortionists represent abortion as involving an elephantine fetus about to walk and talk, when, in truth, the typical abortion has more in common with a menstrual period. With outrageous disregard for truth, antiabortionists have been allowed to portray an embryo or fetus as a person, while the story of the real person involved, the only person involved--the woman who has an abortion--has gone untold. Almost every grass-roots community in America has had the opportunity to see the antiabortionists' distorted, inaccurate, gory slide presentations. Few have had the chance to see a suction abortion performed although these medical movies are available. (See Appendix D.)
Education, of course, is the answer. The antiabortionists have been allowed to blur the picture but when the focus clears, the legality of abortion will remain secure. Had the proponents of legal abortion had the access to money, to schools and churches, and to the media that the antis have had, the only proponents of a ban on abortions in this country today would be those zealots who oppose not only abortion but contraception, and in the final analysis, sex itself.
Since the controversy goes on, it may be useful to review some talking points in coping with the zealots. In fielding questions on abortion on talk shows and before civic, school and church groups, I have found the antis' questions fall into patterns. Here are some typical questions with answers that worked for me.
QUESTION: How can your group condone abortion when it is murder?
Obviously we do not regard abortion as murder. We do not equate an embryo or fetus with a human being. While we recognize that there is everything in a human embryo to produce a person, we know that substantial growth and development are necessary before any person exists. In reality everyone does distinguish between potential and actual existence. You do not insist, for example, that an acorn is an oak tree. If someone drives over an acorn in your yard, you do not rush out and exclaim, "Why did you destroy my oak tree?" Yet there is everything in an acorn to produce an oak tree except growth and development. You do not insist that the egg you ate for breakfast was a chicken, yet a fertilized egg has everything in it to produce a chicken except growth and development. If you go to the store to buy apples and are given a handful of seeds, you will not pay for apples, even though the storekeeper might argue correctly that indeed apple seeds do produce apples. Just as blueprints are not a completed building, so a human fertilized egg is not a person. A conceptus, an embryo or fetus is potential life. Birth makes babies and a great deal of growth and development must go on before a fetus can sustain life, other than parasitically.
At the end of the second month of development, and most abortions in the United States are performed before the end of the second month, an embryo is approximately an inch in length and weighs one- thirtieth of an ounce. To say that this embryo in its primitive development is a human being is an affront to honesty. Think for a moment what you would do with such an embryo if you had one. You could not rock it, or feed it, or sing to it. All that you could do would be to put it on the shelf because it is an embryo; it is not a baby. It is potential life; it is not a human being.
QUESTION: I have talked to lots of people who say abortion isn't really legal? Is abortion legal?
Yes! On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court, by ruling oppressive Texas and Georgia abortion statutes unconstitutional, legalized abortion across the country.
Although abortion may not be available in every state, it is legal in every state. The only regulation a state may make about abortion in the first three months is to require that it be done by a licensed physician. For the second three months of pregnancy, a state may, if it wishes, say abortions must be performed in hospitals, or similarly regulate conditions protecting the health of the woman. Only in the final three months of pregnancy may abortion be prohibited by state law, and even in that period a woman may have an abortion to protect her life or health.
Don't let any antiabortionist tell you differently!
QUESTION: How can you support abortion when that unborn child that is murdered might turn out to be another Beethoven or Shakespeare?
While it is possible that an aborted embryo or fetus might have turned out to be another Beethoven or Shakespeare, it is equally possible it might have turned out to be another Genghis Khan, another Adolf Hitler. As one proponent of abortion has so aptly said, the overwhelming chances are that it would have turned out to be just another Joe Blow. It is possible to speculate endlessly about what might have happened, about the nonexistent.
In our world of almost four billion persons, it is highly probable that a Beethoven or Shakespeare already exists who will never see a piano or learn to read, because the child lives in a Chicago ghetto or Manila slum or Rio de Janiero favela. The potential of millions of children already born will never be realized because of malnutrition, illness, and poverty. Antiabortionists, in their obsession with the quantity of life, ignore the quality of life. Their consuming concern for embryos rarely is paralleled by a concern for children already born.
QUESTION: You say a woman should be able to make this decision for herself. Why shouldn't the father be able to say whether or not an abortion can be done? After all, the child belongs to him, too, doesn't it?
We believe no woman should have to bear a child she does not want. Compulsory pregnancy compounds problems; it does not solve them. We are against enforced pregnancy no matter who is doing the enforcing whether it is the state, the church, or an individual man.
From a practical point of view, if a couple does not agree on something as basic and important as having a child, what kind of parents are they going to be? What kind of marriage must they have? At best, they are going to produce a half-wanted child.
And why shouldn't pregnancy be a woman's decision when she contributes so much more to the pregnancy than does the man? An ejaculation, which takes a few seconds, can not be equated fairly with nine months of gestation, and delivery. You must remember that pregnancy is not much fun. For many women, by the time they have quit vomiting they have started to bulge, and the whole process can be nine months of acute discomfort.
If a woman produced one or two eggs in her lifetime then what happened to those eggs would be of great concern, not only to her, but to society. But she doesn't produce one or two eggs, she produces about 400 mature eggs. Obviously they can't all become persons. Clearly society can afford to let her determine for herself which eggs she sees through to personhood.
QUESTION: I can see abortion in cases of rape or incest or if there is a strong possibility that a fetus is retarded or deformed but if some sixteen-year-old tart goes out and gets herself pregnant, why should she be able to have an abortion?
She should have an abortion because no sixteen-year old girl should have to bear a child. No woman, regardless of age or circumstances, should be forced to have a baby. You are viewing pregnancy and the consequent birth of a baby as punishment. What a wretched reason for a baby to be born! A teen-aged girl who becomes pregnant has a legitimate claim to anyone's sympathy, to any doctor's help. She is physically immature, mentally immature, insolvent, unhappy, her education incomplete. What sense does it make to compel her to become a mother when the safe, simple alternative of abortion is available?
QUESTION: Won't abortion mean fewer and fewer babies to adopt in this country?
Perhaps, and hallelujah! No woman should have to turn herself into a breeding machine so somebody else can adopt a child. A scarcity of babies to adopt means that so many of the formerly unadoptable-- the older children, the black children, the mixed race children, the children with handicaps--are finding homes. Also, there is new pressure to ease the ludicrous restrictions on intercountry adoptions. There are literally millions of homeless children in the world; there are also artificial, bureaucratic barriers keeping them and potential parents apart.
In relation to adoption, it is valuable to contrast our attitudes toward adoptive and natural parents. For years we have insisted that adoptive parents be not too old or too young, that they have stable personalities and even stabler incomes, that they supply references, that they survive group and individual in-depth interviews as to their suitability for parenthood. Yet, on the other hand, we have forced the thirteen-year-old girl, the mother worn out from childbearing, the penniless woman and the woman who is ill--all of whom did not want to be pregnant, none of whom could have got a foot in the door of an adoption agency--to continue pregnancies and to become parents. How ludicrous that we should maintain such lofty standards for parenthood on the one hand, and have absolutely no standards at all on the other.
QUESTION: Doesn't abortion make women sterile?
No. Improperly performed abortions may result in cervical damage, sterilization, or even death. But properly performed abortions, especially those done in early pregnancy using a local anesthetic and a suction aspirator, are very safe, several times safer for a woman than childbirth. (In 1973 the death rate for women in childbirth in the U.S. was 14/100,000, for abortion 3/100,000. The death rate for first trimester abortion was 2/100,000. Death rates can be expected to decline still further when physicians become more skilled at abortion techniques.)
QUESTION: Don't most people object to the legalizing of abortion? Doesn't the referendum in Michigan prove this?
Most of the polls done in 1974 show the country about evenly divided on the issue, with those persons favoring legal abortion a few percentage points ahead.
Antiabortionists love to refer to the 1972 Michigan referendum, in which a proposition to legalize abortion was defeated 61-39 per cent, but that particular referendum probably only proves that the Catholic Church has a lot of money. A comparison is useful here. In one of the western states a few years ago a modified ban on cans was proposed and went out to referendum. Polls showed that an overwhelming percentage of the state's voters would favor the referendum and wished to put an end to the waste of basic materials and the unsightliness of scattered cans. Then those who objected to the can-ban got busy. They launched an expensive public-relations campaign deliberately designed to cause apprehension, inferring a can-ban might mean a recession in the state's economy and a consequent loss of jobs. In the end the can-ban, whose backers had spent a small sum, failed.
In Michigan early polls showed 56 per cent of the voters favored legalization of abortion. Opponents, who hired an advertising agency, staged a three-week blitz before the referendum, saturating television throughout the state with antiabortion commercials. As an example of their diligence, they came over to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to place commercials, since Green Bay serves some of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Gory and inaccurate brochures found their way to almost every one's door; one woman reported receiving thirteen pieces by mail and personal delivery. The Catholic Church used its tax-exempt machinery openly for the political purpose of helping defeat a referendum, and of course it won. (Detroit Free Press, March 4, 1973) Tyranny is always better organized than freedom.
The lesson to be learned from the Michigan referendum is that advertising campaigns, especially when they are inaccurate, blitz campaigns that are not countered, may sway voters.
It is of questionable constitutionality, of course, to put individual rights out to referendum. It's as undemocratic as letting Alabama and Mississippi decide whether blacks should vote. Basic human rights, including a woman's right to control her own reproductive life, are guaranteed by the Constitution. They are not to be decided by popular referenda or church edicts or male legislatures.
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Since I have spoken quite widely in Wisconsin on the abortion issue, people who will be participating themselves in formal discussions or debates on abortion frequently call me, wanting pointers on fielding questions or handling cross fire. Besides touching on the material already discussed in this chapter, I suggest the following:
Challenge your opponent's vocabulary. The arguments and materials used by antiabortionists are quite predictable, and to a man or woman, they will use the same vocabulary. All embryos are "children" to them, all women are "mothers," and all men are "fathers." Challenge them! Point out that an embryo or fetus is just that; it is not a "child." Let your opponent and your audience know that a pregnant woman is not a "mother" unless she now has, or has had, a living child. Likewise a man who has impregnated a woman is not necessarily a "father"; he is more apt to be a sperm depositor. Remind them that abortion is not ,"murder"--it is a legal, medical procedure--and that slander and libel laws exist to protect persons unjustly accused of advocating murder.
Euphemisms are not honest, and there is no need to accept your opponent's estimate of him or herself as a "right-to-lifer." Those who oppose abortion are not "right-to-lifers," they are antiabortionists or compulsory-pregnancy people. Those who adhere to the pure Catholic doctrine, and do not believe in abortion even to save a woman's life (and there are a surprising number of these on the speaking circuit), quite properly can be described as being against the right to life for women. Remind your audience that before abortion was legalized in the United States, many thousands of women were admitted every year to hospitals for care after botched abortions, and another 300 women died each year from backstreet or self-induced abortions. (The statistics game is a difficult one to play regarding abortion, because prior to its legality there were few firm figures available. In 1960, for example, 300 death certificates in the U.S. carried abortion as the cause of death, according to the Population Institute of New York City. However, because of the stigma attached to abortion and to outof-wedlock pregnancy, it is logical to assume that many deaths from abortion went unreported as such, and were attributed to other causes, such as peritonitis. Data from the National Health Survey further indicate large numbers of illegal abortions reflected in hospital admissions, for women needing medical care as a result of interrupted pregnancies. Although these figures are not broken down and include spontaneous abortions, therapeutic abortions, and induced abortions, there were 358,000 such admissions in 1965, a figure that fell to 282,000 by 1971, when legal abortions were becoming regionally available.) Anyone wanting to return women to that situation does not respect life.
If your opponent uses graphic aids, use yours, too. If you are consenting to take the proabortion side of a discussion or debate, be sure you know the ground rules. If pictures, slides or films are being used by the opposition, get some of your own. If gory pictures are what is on the agenda, then go prepared with your own pictures of women dead from botched abortions, of deformed fetuses, beaten babies, and starving children.
Two short, informative films that are excellent aids in presentations are "Women Who've Lived Through Illegal Abortions" and "Aspiration Abortion." (See Appendix D, "What You Can Do" for details.)
Zero in on punitive attitudes. If you have hostile people in your audience, questions will quite often have a punitive twist. Plan to pounce on them. The question quoted earlier: "If some sixteen-year-old tart goes out and gets her self pregnant. . ." is a typical example of this--there's one like that in every audience. You will make points with your listeners when you note that a sixteen-year-old probably isn't a tart, that this may have been a first sexual experience or a forced sexual experience, that she obviously did not get herself pregnant, and that she needs an abortion, not the punishment of enforced pregnancy. "Why punish?" is a question I keep asking, and it is a question hostile people need to hear. Some religions bolster punitive attitudes in their followers. They preach tolerance, forgiveness, and understanding, but what comes through on the abortion issue is: "If she plays, she pays." Wanting people to be punished seems to be an old Christian habit.
Don't be afraid to show emotion if you feel emotional. It's warranted. Your opponent in most cases will be an individual who wants to deny abortion to any woman-to victims of rape, to child victims of incest, to women worn out from childbearing, to women who are ill, and even to women who may die if they are not aborted. Getting emotional in debates about tax structures may seem insincere; getting emotional about a woman's right to have an abortion is an inevitable reaction.
Don't be apologetic. Remember that no one has ever suggested a law compelling a woman to have an abortion. The premise you defend is that NO WOMAN SHOULD BE DENIED AN ABORTION BECAUSE OF THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF OTHER PEOPLE.
Like most Americans, I am aware that our public schools are, in large part, what made our democracy lasting. Where Europe segregated its students in church schools, the practice of religious segregation has been limited in the United States.
Here, the daughter of the banker, the son of the farmer, the factory workers' children studied together in the public schools; they met on common ground. They knew each other as American citizens not as Catholics or Protestants or Jews. The public school, unlike the sectarian school, has been a center of community interest. It brings people together.
Now, we are facing the increasing religious segregation of school children. This is the result of some constitutionally dubious court decisions and legislative actions granting huge sums of money to church schools and their sponsoring religions. The "melting pot" that epitomized our democracy is being threatened by religious voucher programs and public aid of all kinds to religion. In Wisconsin there is even an announced "partnership" between the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese and the Milwaukee public school system.
It is time to take note of the lessons of history and of the problems of entanglement of church and state that have threatened the peace of the world for so many centuries. It is time to reflect on the current religious tragedies in the Balkans, in Ireland, in the Middle East. These are religious conflicts in countries that ensure future animosity by segregating their students by religion.
A friend of mine who is a journalist spent a year studying in northern Ireland. When she came back she said that it was inescapable not to recognize that the religious segregation of school children perpetuated the problems there.
"They grow to maturity," she said, "without ever even meeting someone of a different religion."
My granddaughter, a public school student, has attended public schools with children of every color and with a variety of religious beliefs. Her classrooms "look like the world." She and her schoolmates will never have the insular view of the religiously segregated child.
Our public schools are what we make them. We will never improve them by violating separation of church and state and pouring public money into religious schools.
Separation of church and state has served our country well. We were first among nations to establish it. We destroy it at great peril.
Please work to protect and promote this constitutional principle that is now under unprecedented attack and is being dishonored in our courts and our legislatures. The fragmentation of our public schools can only result in the fragmentation of our democracy.
Anne N. Gaylor, President
Freedom From Religion Foundation