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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Worth Remembering

posted by on June 3 at 15:54 PM

For those of us who grew up in the decades after Roe v. Wade, the right to a safe, legal abortion is as easy to take for granted as our right to buy condoms or get treated for STDs. But for decades, the only recourse for pregnant women and girls was to carry the baby to term—often a ruinous decision, for obvious reasons—or to seek (or give oneself) an illegal abortion.

In today’s NYT, Dr. Waldo Fielding—a gynecologist from the time before Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose—writes about his experience caring for women who had illegal abortions. It’s worth remembering, 35 years after Roe v. Wade, what those days were like.

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger” — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.

[…] However, not simply coat hangers were used.

Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion — darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.

[…]The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel
, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

This is what things were like for women in the days before Roe v. Wade assured a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion. It’s those halcyon days to which John “Immediately Overturn Roe v. Wade” McCain would like to see us return.

RSS icon Comments


Thanks, ECB.

You just made me feel queasy in a way Chelsea Something-Something never could.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | June 3, 2008 4:04 PM

ECB's first pro obama post that also renounces self righteous feminist voting idiocy.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 3, 2008 4:04 PM

AMAZING post ECB. We women who were born post-Roe often take our rights for granted. May we never go back to a world of back alley abortions, where doctors are unable to treat patients in a proper manner.

Again, thank you for this post.

Posted by arduous | June 3, 2008 4:08 PM

Anyone who opposes keeping abortion legal is either a hypocrite, or shares a stoneage view of modern medicine with the Christian Scientists.

Posted by Dougsf | June 3, 2008 4:09 PM

Now tell that to the rabid army of Clinton supporters screaming about how they're all voting for McCain this November:

Posted by JC | June 3, 2008 4:14 PM

The "right to life" movement is disingenuous. Their latest project is to oppose birth control which is the best way to prevent the need for an abortion. I do not take the pope at his word when he says it is about life. It is about control. And we need to take more of it away from them.

Posted by Heather | June 3, 2008 4:21 PM

See? When you're right, the story tells itself. No jumping of any sharks needed. I always knew you had it in you, Erica.

Plus, Obama's other car is a 100% rating from NARAL. Just thought I'd add that fact to your excellent post.

Posted by elenchos | June 3, 2008 4:23 PM

@5 this was the best logic of your link:

"Free speech and free press is protected in the Constitution but as long as it is fair and objective. Nothing about the media during the primaries has been fair OR objective."

Posted by cochise. | June 3, 2008 4:27 PM

Sorry, but I'd say the biggest hypocrites are the abortion-lovers. These women were trying to murder their children. And you're upset they hurt themselves in the process? Generally, I'd say anyone who is trying to murder an innocent child, deserves what she gets. No one is forcing any woman to have an abortion, so feeling pity for these women who hurt themselves doing so is a bit disingenuous.

Posted by Ummm.... hello? | June 3, 2008 4:31 PM

ugh. i read that on today, and it turned my stomach. what a horrible thought.

remember "dirty dancing" people!

Posted by konstantconsumer | June 3, 2008 4:38 PM


Artless troll.

Posted by elenchos | June 3, 2008 4:39 PM

@9 - A fetus is not a child.

Posted by Soupytwist | June 3, 2008 4:43 PM

everyone, please do not feed the troll.

Posted by konstantconsumer | June 3, 2008 4:46 PM

It really doesn't matter who you prefer as a presidential candidate.

If you object to your personal liberties being treated as tools to deflect attention from the perilous condition of the country, then you are and have ever been on the same side.

If you would rather be righting the ship of state than freaking out about minorities and gays, then you are on the same side.

If you don't think that a candidate's clothes, makeup, tone of voice, or accessories are the primary indications of leadership ability, then you are on the same side.

It also doesn't matter what party you think you belong to, or how much you may have disagreed with one another in the past -- just take back your government.

Posted by medicineman | June 3, 2008 4:46 PM

Here is a good way to remember the significance of Roe:

Posted by Trevor | June 3, 2008 4:51 PM


to quote Pat Condell "the world might be a better place if 2000 years ago Mary had the right to choose"

I have taken the decision that ther are no consequences for quoting this.

Posted by Mary | June 3, 2008 5:00 PM

When I was in high school (which was most definitely post Roe vs Wade) I remember a girl who was pregnant who would do sprints every day, hoping to miscarry. And another girl who had her boyfriend punch her in the stomach, hoping to lose her baby. These were "Good Christian Girls" at an upper middle class high school in a small city in Iowa.

Abortion has been around since the first woman got pregnant, and it will be around until the last woman has given birth. All outlawing it would do would clean up the statistics, which is perfectly acceptable for most consrvatives, since they tend to live lives of hypocrisy and secrets anyway.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | June 3, 2008 5:04 PM

I'm taking the advice of #13, although there's plenty to be said. I can pretty much keep a lid on it when I feel like I need to.

Posted by Wolf | June 3, 2008 5:31 PM

The interesting thing about the Clinton blog posting above isn't just how rabid and pro-McCain they are (a lot are saying "It's either Clinton or McCain"), but how many keep bringing up the fact that she was "treated badly" as a reason to vote for her.

Seriously, it's comes up again and again, everyone (the DNC, the press, Obama) is treating her badly therefore we must vote for her. She's got the victim vote locked up solid!

And frankly the cult of personality on that blog is miles above anything I've seen with Obama fans.

Posted by bob | June 3, 2008 5:43 PM

@10, i love you.

Posted by Non | June 3, 2008 5:54 PM

If McCain wins the election, I'm straight north to Canada. If you've got any sense at all you'll do the same thing. If you haven't got any sense, I suggest you plant some rue in your garden. There's going to be some ladies who're going to need it.

Posted by Y.F. | June 3, 2008 5:57 PM

Here's a thought... If Roe were overturned, there would be a couple of coathangers, but it would be more about an underground market in RU-486 like they have in Nicaragua.

You know what else would happen? Doctors would begin avoiding, passing the buck on and all-out refusing to treat women with uterine bleeding for fear of being charged with having performed an abortion--no matter what caused the bleeding in the first place.

The bad old days wouldn't come back, but the bad new days wouldn't be better.

Posted by DRF | June 3, 2008 7:29 PM

Great post, ECB! Lest we ever forget what happens if the "pro-lifers" achieve their goals...

Posted by Hernandez | June 3, 2008 7:46 PM

If Roe were overturned it would immediately become a state issue. Progressives states would probably see no change, people living in the south and midwest would be screwed.

Although I hate to wonder long-term would the impact would be. Just as with Iraq, a lot of people were pretty rah-rah about it until it started impacting them.

Posted by bob | June 3, 2008 8:00 PM

The rest of the world moves forward and Republican'ts keep trying to move us backward. Religion is the enemy of freedom. Always has been. Always will be.

Posted by Vince | June 4, 2008 3:04 PM

Let's also not forget that Roe V. Wade is not just about abortion. That is the part that gets the most press but the wider issue covered in that ruling is that women's bodies are their own and they have the right to make their own health care decisions about them. Overturn Roe V. Wade and go back to the days when women had to talk to their husband before going to the doctor.

Posted by Colin | June 4, 2008 4:02 PM

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