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.