Guest Essay: America Before Roe v. Wade

November 22, 2009

The following essay was written by my good friend Eddy Collins of Norman OK:

Few women now of childbearing age will remember the time when abortion in America was illegal. As much as some might want you to think otherwise, it was hardly a glorious time of sexual abstinence. Women, whether married or unmarried, had unwanted pregnancies and sometimes resorted to folk or even quack “remedies”. Unknown and untraceable abortionists operated from back-alleys, kitchen tables, and rented rooms—with few guarantees of medical knowledge, professional conduct, or even basic hygiene, and with no threat of a medical malpractice lawsuit if (or when) things went horribly wrong.

The men of that era who fathered an unwanted pregnancy often responded to such news with, “How do you know it’s mine?” Fortunately, if abortion is recriminalized, with modern DNA techniques such questions will be easily answered, particularly when the issue of child support arises.

Since abortion (and, in many states, contraception) was illegal, women whose procedures were botched were at great pains to hide what had happened. A trip to the hospital to treat symptoms like massive bleeding or infection could have been tantamount to an admission of guilt. Thus, official statistics of deaths resulting from illegal abortion would undoubtedly be vastly understated and unreliable.

As another holiday season approaches, families will gather together and retell each other their stories. What about that aunt or sister or cousin (or the dear friend from high school or college) who died suddenly, or is the “black sheep” of the family—the one who’s only spoken of in hushed tones? Was she one of “the girls who went away”: to an out-of-state abortionist or a home for unwed mothers? Did she put a “love child” up for adoption, willingly or otherwise? Has she felt the shame and guilt of her family and society ever since? (On this topic, I give great thanks to Ann Fessler, author of the powerful book, The Girls Who Went Away, and those who shared their stories with her.) What about the men of that generation? Did they ever “get a girl in trouble”, sweat bullets waiting anxiously for a girlfriend to “get her period”—or leave her before finding out? After all, it takes two to tango.

These were far more common occurrences than realized today—and they never found their way into the dinner table discussions on “Leave it to Beaver”, “Ozzie and Harriett”, or “Father Knows Best”. Ask your older relatives while you still can (the National Day of Listening is the Friday after Thanksgiving). You might be surprised at what you learn about your own family history and you might help release a dear relative from a private, personal prison.

No, Americans didn’t wake up one day and decide it would be fun to destroy fetuses. After decades of painful, bloody experience, we decided to stop forcing women with unwanted pregnancies to put themselves at risk of infection, infertility, and death.

One comment

  1. The single most important aspect of a "cure" for global warming is population control. There are now a Billion people on the planet who are underfed. Not to mention lacking clothing, transportation, education, sewers, clean water….And until this year the US "plan" for the world was dumbdication – abstinence only – no birth control.

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