The Abortion-Go-Round - Reprint
January 22, 2003
Thirty years ago the case of Roe v Wade was decided, and abortion became legal in America.
It was a victory for the women of this country. America...a little behind the times as usual, but better late than never. Other countries had legal abortion. If an American woman could afford it, she could have an abortion done in safety, under sterile conditions, in a hospital or clinic outside of this country.
I have been listening to NPR today, and there has been a fair amount of coverage on the issue of abortion because there are demonstrations going on all over the country, both for and against legal abortion. Now why is all that so familiar? It's still the same old song after all these years. It should not be sung anymore, but it is, over and over again.
If you follow the commentaries at this site (refers to original site) with any diligence, you will know what my stance is regarding abortion. It's nobody's business except that of the people immediately involved.
IT'S NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!
That should be the stance of government.
Abortion may or may not be a moral issue for a woman contemplating having one. If it's a moral issue for a woman, it's her moral issue. She will deal with, cope with, or grapple with it. Not you.
THAT IS NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!
Government is not in place to guard morality. Morality itself can not be legislated, only the outward expression of morality, or alleged lack of it, can be legislated by laws that effectively suppress that outward expression.
Government is not in place to stick its nose into our private lives.
To be a true Liberal, you must recognize the rights of others even if it chokes you. NOTE: Since the term "Liberal" has become a dirty word, I will couch the phrase differently. In order to be "fair and balanced" in outlook, you must recognize the rights of others, even if it chokes you.
My personal belief is that we don't exist as individuals until we're born and breathing. Up to that point we're floating around like fish. The rights of the fetus are the rights of the woman who carries the fetus. If a fetus is harmed in, let's say an act of violence, the violence was directed toward the woman not the fetus. If the fetus does not survive the attack, but the woman does, it is absurd to bring a charge of manslaughter or murder against the assailant. Doing that imposes a religious belief on the legal system.
Self admittedly, I am unsentimental. I question the gushy diatribes regarding inherent motherly love. I think it's more a matter of falling in love with that cute squiggly little baby once it's there in your arms. I may be wrong. A woman in the grip of an unwanted pregnancy is not too likely to be feeling instant love for the fetus when she discovers to her dismay, that she is pregnant.
My mother said she grew fond of me as a result of a certain pity for my utter helplessness as I lay there squirming, howling, red as a beet, and scheming up ways to get things I wanted with minimal delay.
She may have been in a masochistic state of mind at the time, since she informed me eventually that: A- I never slept. B- I had the lungpower and vocal range of a hog caller.
But this isn't about motherly love, or cute babies. It's about death.
Prior to the legalization of abortion, women had abortions illegally, and therefore, dangerously. If the woman was caught after having had an abortion she was charged with committing a crime. (Usually she was turned in by the medical community because she needed help due to complications.) The police grilled her relentlessly, attempting to force her to divulge the name of the "fiend" who'd performed it. She could be jailed, fined, or both. She had broken the law.
She was spared no indignity. Treated as a criminal act, the story would be published in the newspapers, even in big cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc.
The well to do never had that problem. Their abortions were performed discretely by an abortionist or doctor of choice in America or elsewhere. They recovered in a day or so, and none were the wiser. For the wealthy (read connected) these things are always simple.
As always, the suffering was mercilessly meted out to the poor, and as usual, the defenseless.
The middle class, because they were not poor (this was true back in the good old days before Corporate America swallowed the worker for a snack), had the chance to resort to psychiatrists who declared them in mortal danger of killing themselves if they had to bear the child, and the magical legal/medical doors opened. It was a bit more complex, but usually it worked out for them.
A friendly doctor could claim the woman's life was in danger if she tried to have the child she was carrying, and once again, the magical doors opened. All it took was money. As the poor tend to rely on clinics, such "personal" attention was/is denied them.
The minimum wage in the year 1956 was 65 cents per hour. An abortion was in the area of $125.00 for a non-surgical procedure. More of course if it was a surgical (D&C) procedure. Much more.
At 65 cents an hour, the wage for a forty-hour week would be $26.00 before deductions. It would take over five weeks to save the money for a "cheap" abortion if the woman didn't spend a cent for anything else. She was supposed to live on air while trying to accumulate the money I guess.
Even with help, it was a lot of money for poor women to raise.
In 1961 you might have been able to get an abortion done for around $250.00 if you were lucky enough to find someone to perform a non-surgical procedure, but the average rate was around $400.00 to $500.00. They went as high as $2500.00.
There was an abortion ring in Mexico operating a clinic at that time. A woman was given anesthesia, had the abortion, stayed for a day or two, and returned home in great health.
This clinic charged $2500.00. There was just one problem about that place, and it had nothing to do with drinking the water.
The ring did not perform abortions. They did nothing at all. You were knocked out for a while, you woke up feeling terrific because you were healthy, you were happy, and you were going home free of pregnancy. Cute Huh?
Of course they got away with it. Who was going to tell? It was like getting ripped off for a big bag of dope...were you going to the police about it? Of course not.
The Means To An End
Way, way back in the good old days down on the farm, one method of self-induced abortion was to dip a turkey quill into turpentine or kerosene, insert the quill into the womb somehow, and hope you aborted. A quill has capillary action. It fills, as does a straw, when placed in fluid. And then there was that old standby, the knitting needle, or coat hanger. Anything a desperate woman or maybe the friend helping her could get into her womb. Women did help each other.
Desperate people do desperate things.
Feeling a little queasy?
On the slightly less violent side, there were scalding hot mustard baths, massive doses of quinine and gin, ergot of rye capsules, lifting injuriously heavy objects, ingesting turpentine by the teaspoonful poured over sugar, using powerful laxatives... Many of these were tried in conjunction with each other. None of these methods were especially safe.
As far as I know, during all the recent razzmatazz marking this thirtieth anniversary of Roe v Wade, not one mention was made of these grisly facts while discussing the pros and cons of legalized abortion.
Let us progress.
Some abortions were done by nurses. One had a chance at reasonable sterility with a nurse. Often a catheter was inserted into the womb, and left in place to act as an irritant that would cause a miscarriage, and expulsion of the fetus. A straightened clothes hanger was employed to give the catheter enough rigidity to pass through the cervix, and then the hanger was pulled out leaving the catheter (you hoped) in position. This was usually an overnight ordeal. You were in labor until it was over. If it worked.
There was also the method of having various fluids injected into the uterus. Chlorine bleach was one favored ingredient.
Then there was dilation and curettage, often done by a nurse, a medical student, a renegade doctor, or an old lady with dirty fingernails. Probably 90% of these were performed without the benefit of any anesthetic.
Doctors worked alone for the most part, with no one to monitor anesthesia administration. The other abortionists were in a hurry, and had no anesthesia. All of them expected you to lie there, hold still, and keep your mouth shut.
They were performed in doctor's offices in the middle of the night; in the homes of the women; in hotel rooms; in filthy slum apartments; in abandoned buildings...
They were done on floors with newspapers under the woman as a dubious concession to cleanliness; on kitchen tables; on filthy bare mattresses-no sheets that could be laundered for the sake of sanitation. The lucky ones were lying on a gynecological table with their feet in stirrups.
Women were held down or tied down, and at times blindfolded to protect the identity of the abortionist. Since silence was of the utmost importance some women were gagged, or had a hand held over their mouths. If there was a "helper" he or she dissolved into the mist as soon as it was over. Sometimes, if the woman was blindfolded, she had no idea of who actually performed the abortion. She might have contracted with a doctor, but was it a doctor?
Women died of perforated wombs, sepsis, severe blood loss, shock, and possibly, in the case of a weak heart let's say, of sheer terror and pain.
Their bodies were disposed of in dark hallways, cellars, dumpsters, on roofs, in alleys, into rivers, and wherever else one throws something that is of no value.
The women were left behind, or sent away as soon as the procedure was completed. If they were left where the abortion was performed, usually no one was there to see to them, to make sure they were all right. No one cared about them once it was done.
Many died right where they were. Alone. They died in an alley where they were dumped in the case of complications, or in their beds with their lives flowing like a river, out and away. They died in hospitals, and bus stations, train stations, in hotel rooms, in their cars trying to get home, or on the street where they fell.
Abortionists, like hookers, always got paid up front. They disappeared as soon as the job was done. The abortionists were protected by the women. Who else would help them if it happened to them again, or to a friend, or a relative?
WOMEN DIED. MANY, MANY WOMEN DIED.
Who is telling that part of it now?
Women have had abortions since time immemorial. They will have abortions whether they are legal or not. That cannot be stopped.
So what's better? To allow them a safe abortion, or to kill two birds with one slip of a hanger or curette, or knitting needle to satisfy the religious urge of a nation gone mad on the subject?
Again, the moral issue of abortion is a personal issue between the people involved and their god if they have one. It is not your business. It is not my business. Neither of us will pay the piper, nor go to hell for the actions of someone other than ourselves.
But we will pay the price extracted by our own unforgiving hearts that will not allow us to forget the terrible deed we will have done, if we consign women to the hell of illegal abortion again.
To be more specific, in the knowing of these realities I have spoken about here, we will be in hell every time we hear of a woman dying because of a dirty abortion.
Because we were silent.
Because we didn't tell the government to back off.
Because of some distorted ego, some almighty/divine attitude that tells some of us we know what's best for everyone.
Because this insanely distorted attitude allows us to demand the right to say no to women, no to their safety, no to their right of choice...through the edicts of this corrupt, draconian, hypocritical political administration presently in place.
In The Afterglow of Victory
February 24, 2003
All these years later, after the legalization of abortion, I can't help but think about the innocence of women today who are of childbearing age. It is amazing in a sense to realize that women have enjoyed for so long, freedom from the danger of an abortion gone terribly wrong, or the consequences of having been "caught" by the police and being thrown into jail, that struggling with an unwanted pregnancy isn't a normal topic of conversation among them any more.
I was astonished to discover that the methods and means of aborting in the past were completely unknown to young women today. That's how far removed we are from the legal scourge of yesteryear. There was a time, especially during the '60's, when asking women you knew whether they knew any abortionists, was a completely natural thing.
There was an abortion information underground. Many women had a file of known abortionists containing data on what they charged, what method they used, whether they themselves, or a friend, had used that person, and how it went for them. They warned each other about the dirty ones, who'd leave you half dead, and the exceptional ones who did their best to insure you of a clean procedure. There were some good ones out there; finding them was like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Today, I was talking to a friend who is in her thirties. I mentioned the previous article to her and for some reason I asked her if she had any idea of what having an abortion was like in the bad old days. She didn't have a clue. I mentioned a few details, and the expression of shock on her face told me something important.
Abortions of the past are a very carefully skirted issue in these times. The media, which could do so much to promote awareness of just how horrible things were then, is completely silent on the subject. And it comes as no surprise to me that as a result of this silence, how many young people are against legalized abortion today. The young men infuriate me most especially. What do they know? Absolutely nothing. The "Good Christian" model has probably never been nearer to a vagina than sitting beside their female family members on the couch. I think of them as the great unfucked.
When I hear one of those sanctimonious, wet behind the ears male virgins excoriating those who support the right to a legal abortion, all I can think is, that particular little know-it-all never had a sister, cousin, or friend go through the ordeal of an illegal, rather barbaric abortion that almost killed her, or that did kill her.
If that happened to any one of these youngsters, you'd see an abrupt about face regarding attitude. Not all of them would change their thinking of course, some would feel vindicated knowing the sinner had suffered so much, but I'd put my last dollar down that the majority of them would give the issue some damn serious thought, and probably stop being such judgmental little experts on the right and wrong of something they know nothing about.
We peaceful souls are against the death penalty, but if a person we loved was murdered, we'd cry for blood, at least in the beginning. It's human nature. All you need is for it to happen to you. That goes for almost anything.
It would be interesting to see how these young people today would handle watching a D&C performed with the woman fully conscious, trying to hold still, and keep quiet. It would be interesting to see how they would react to a woman dying of sepsis, or bleeding to death in front of them because of a perforated womb. Especially interesting if the woman or girl was someone they loved. Yes, very interesting indeed.
These young people today don't even realize there was no suction method back in the wonderful days of yore. The whole deal was a gritty, and very real-time horror show in its nature. It was furtive, terrifying, and totally risky. It was extremely difficult to get hooked up with someone who did abortions, and the paranoia of both parties justifiably saturated the atmosphere.
When Ronald Reagan was elected, I had only one comment. I said, "welcome back to the dark ages", and abortion was the thing I had on my mind.
It's taken the conservatives a long, long time to get into a position where the threat to make abortion a crime again is closer to reality, than simply being lip service. Some afterglow huh?
And one other thing: I wonder how it comes to pass that so many men are completely comfortable politicizing the wombs of women? Particularly "those" men, the so-called lawmakers of our society, the legislative body, now Republican in the majority.
I always think of Republicans as having been grown in test tubes. They're so fastidious (oh yeah?) I can scarce imagine them in the clutch of passion, tearing off a piece of ass. Allow me to state here, that if one of them got their girlfriend preggers, the very best abortionist would be available at the drop of a hat, legal or not (especially if he happened to have a wife tucked away at home).
And don't naively imagine for a moment that they don't have girlfriends.
I found a wonderful comment by Helen Forelle that sums things up so succinctly:
"If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."