Abortion in the US before Roe v. Wade

From 1971 to 1973, I was an environmental journalist who did a lot of work on abortion and birth control.  The size and growth rate of the human population were considered a significant environmental issue.  I was in my early twenties, with a recent degree in anthropology.  I had already been taught that urbanization was a significant suppressant of the human birth rate.  City-dwellers no longer need to produce as many children in order to provide in-house farm labor.

But humans like to have fun.  The L.A. Times ran an article about an abortion provider who was busy terminating early pregnancies.  He had no medical degree, and I already knew who he was because a former girlfriend had used him and then told me about it afterward.  Putting two and two together, I did a series of interviews with him.  He invented his technique, which used a kind of catheter that he called a "cannula," while serving time in prison.  He practiced by evacuating chicken eggs through a small opening in the shell.  Eggs were used since they have similar viscosity to an early human embryo.

After the interview ran, I got a letter from an airline stewardess in Louisiana desperately wanting to know his contact information.  I also got a rather angry letter from a feminist organization, denouncing his unlicensed and unregulated experimentation on women.

To this day, emotions run high.  (You think?)  During my work on this subject, I got to know Shirley Radl, then the executive director of Zero Population Growth.  Shortly thereafter, she came out with a book titled Mother's Day Is Over, in which I was credited in the acknowledgments.  She also introduced me to a couple of abortion counselors, who had both been Protestant ministers.  They opened for me a window into the dilemma of late-term abortion.  Even though a woman is normally expected to realize her pregnancy within the first few months, back in those days, a woman considering an abortion would receive quite a bit of attention from various interested parties, which can be rather gratifying, until it may actually be too late for the usual clinical procedure.

There was also a confluence of events.  Dilation and curettage had become medically reliable, with little risk to the female patient, and militant feminism had risen up as a serious political force.  Needless to say, there was tremendous political pressure to liberalize access to abortion well beyond it just being a medical necessity as determined by a woman's physician.  There was a fairly common expectation among population control activists that the Supreme Court would soon be opening that door.

What they didn't expect was that the issue would never go away, even after half a century has passed.  In order to compose the language of the Roe v. Wade decision, the Court had to get really creative, which left many doubts about its actual legal validity.  This lack of durable resolution has hung over the Supreme Court as a cloud of doubt ever since.  The militant activists continue to believe that the end justifies the means.  But Supreme Court rulings have to be made public, and the means employed for Roe can only invite controversy.

Abortion is also not completely unique.  The medical practice involves several other dicey judgment calls.  Organ harvesting and transplantation became feasible at about the same time as dilation and curettage.  First, a determination needs to be made if a potential donor is certainly going to die...and when.  Next, there's the waiting list.  What determines a subject's position there?  Things really tightened up when states started enacting motorcycle helmet laws.  They used to be called "donor-cycles"...but no more.  We have, however, gotten used to letting our medical folks play God...when God seems to be busy elsewhere.

Bottom line: Women were getting abortions before Roe v. Wade.  But there were hoops that often had to be jumped through, depending upon which one of the several states someone was in.  In the leftist mind, any price or other requirement limits access.  Oh, dear!  Having to pay for what you want?  And be eligible?  That's not fair!  Hence the current faux hysteria.  What they're really worried about is not that women may lose their freedom, but whether they'll still have the issue to keep rallying the troops when troops are needed.

Image: Lokal_Profil.

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