Why Abortion? Barriers for Needy Women
Reproduced from Lead Us Not Into Penn Station by Anne Nicol Gaylor.
The once forbidden subject of abortion has been debated furiously for well over a decade. Despite this airing of the topic and the historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that abortion is a woman's private constitutional right, abortion remains an emotionally volatile issue, inspiring regular letters-to-the-editor, syndicate columns, TV fetus commercials and billboards, church pronouncements, political party platform debates, picketing of clinics and violence against them, legislative calls to arms, court challenges and some of the most intensive lobbying in the history of Congress.
Since the subject of abortion remains viable, durable and still controversial, it seems useful to present some positive words about it. The selection that follows is excerpted from my book Abortion is a Blessing. It was my 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 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 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 abortions, 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.