For a year, I attended a Protestant university where the “girls” dorm had a midnight curfew; the men, 2:00 am. Condoms were stored behind the counter at the town drugstore, so you had to ask the creepy pharmacist to allow you to buy them. I doubt anyone had ever dared ask the college health service to prescribe the Pill, but the answer would have been “no.” It was 100 times easier to buy any illegal drug on that conservative campus than to buy something to protect your fragile young life. We were really stuck in the Dark Ages, though it was 1969.
I was 18, a few months into college. My friend’s roommate’s girlfriend went home at Thanksgiving to see the family doctor, and found out she was 6 weeks pregnant. She was a senior, planning law school, much more sophisticated than I, and still, in a complete panic. Though I was still too scared to have sex — precisely because I wanted to avoid just such a pregnancy — I was the designated brave one delegated to find her an abortion. I knew people in Chicago in the anti-war movement who put me in touch with JANE abortion service. I remember it as a huge relief. She avoided the back-alley experience, and we learned that there was this amazing network of women who took care of other women with unplanned pregnancies, selflessly and safely.
Only 4 months later, women could get to New York City, camp out overnight in front of newly opened clinics — as they did in happy bunches — and get a safe, legal abortion because New York state had broken the ban. With the Roe v. Wade decision in three years later, we thought the years of agonizing deaths from septic abortions were over; we thought women, at least in the U.S., would not be forced to bear children against their will anymore.
The women who died from unsafe abortions are hardly remembered now, certainly not by what Dr. LeRoy Carhart calls the “Right to Lie” movement against abortion. Their story goes that if women were not forced to have abortions by the “abortion industry,” they, the good Christians, could intervene and convince every pregnant woman that God planned this pregnancy for her, and she ought to go along with His plan for her life and, no matter how hard it is, accept this blessing [overheard verbatim this weekend outside Dr. Carhart's clinic in Maryland].
But Dr. Carhart, who trained at Hahneman Hospital in Philadelphia, said the women he treated with septic abortion injuries made such a lasting impression in his surgical training, that he set out to make sure women would have the best care possible after 1973. In spite of the intense anti-abortion harassment — including a Nebraska state law passed in 2010 to stop his provision of abortion past 20 weeks — he’s expanding services at his Bellevue, Nebraska clinic. And he’s now doing advanced gestation abortions for maternal and fetal indications at his clinic in Germantown, Maryland.
Germantown, Maryland – January 23
About 150 anti-abortion protesters (link provided for reference, not endorsement) were outside that clinic Sunday, though it’s not open on weekends. On short notice, 45 pro-choice activists came, from 6 states, to celebrate abortion rights and defend Dr. Carhart and courageous abortion providers who make choice possible. We were filmed and interviewed by most local news, and some national outlets.
Those of us defending the clinic were on site two hours before the anti’s but of course the police told us we had to move. The sergeant said,”it will be fine. Separate, but equal!” (well, he didn’t actually say that).
South Bronx, NYC – January 22
Saturday, on the anniversary of Roe, the staff of Dr. Emily’s Women’s Health in the South Bronx, with the New York Coalition for Abortion Clinic Defense, welcomed 70 supporters for a street rally in front of the clinic. The monks who usually prey on women there were fairly quiet, but we weren’t. It was moving to hear from a first-year law student (especially given the experience above) whom I’d met earlier this fall working on prosecution of Bush era war crimes. Chloe described the decision to terminate a pregnancy just as she started school as uncomplicated, since she had access to good care. But, even if abortion was illegal, she said,
“I would have walked to the ends of the earth to terminate that pregnancy. Because my life already means something! I am not just a vessel waiting to be filled!”
WBAI Radio: a Celebration of Roe v. Wade – January 22
For an hour Saturday, I was on the radio show Equal Time for Free Thought. Sunsara Taylor hosted The Morality of Abortion and the Immorality of Those Who Would Force Women to Bear Children Against Their Will (audio).
Guests were Dr. Leroy Carhart; Merle Hoffman, Founder of Choices Womens’ Medical Center in Queens NY (going strong since 1971); Carole Joffe, author of Dispatches From the Abortion Wars: The Cost of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us, as well as, Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe V. Wade and myself.
We jumped into the discussion of the morality of abortion, four of us with several decades of history doing so, from two sides. Depriving women of control over our bodies — even birth control access is being limited by state laws now — is profoundly diminishing to women, and immoral. When backed up by theocratic ideas like the Biblical submission of women to men, and violence to abortion providers, it’s intolerable to a people who care about the humanity of women.
Arguing for the morality of abortion, I can’t say it better than this:
The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each other’s humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by “God” to “submit themselves” to men. This morality sees children as a joy to society, and as ultimately the responsibility of all society, while not compelling anyone in any way to have children against their will. It does NOT, as these theocrats do, sanctimoniously shout hosannas to a clump of cells that might someday become a child—while feverishly upholding the murder of real live children in the war being waged by the U.S. in Afghanistan, and self-righteously dooming literally millions of other real live children, right in the U.S., to lives of deprivation and punishment—in the name of those same traditional values.
San Francisco, CA – January 22
There was a very large statewide anti-abortion protest in San Francisco, with many more children and teenagers than in past years. The pro-choice presence was smaller than previous years, though some young ones got a banner stretched across the anti-abortion group, before being pushed off.
There really is a battle for the minds of the next generation on this. Will their heads be filled with the lie that “abortion is murder?” World Can’t Wait activists with a bullhorn directed questions to the children brought to the march, which apparently infuriated some of their parents. “For all you who were afraid to tell your mom and dad you didn’t want to come here today — for all you all who are afraid to tell your pastor you believe abortion should be legal — you’re right!”
Sunday morning, the New York Times reported on an abortion provider who is bearing the brunt of society’s under-appreciation for the caring service he provides:
“I’m just a punching bag,” he added. “I don’t do well with that. Sometimes they [patients] won’t even look at me the day of the procedure; they won’t speak to me. That I despise. I really hate that.
“They were referred to me because I do it safely and expeditiously,” the doctor continued. “To be treated like garbage — and my staff — is really very upsetting.”
Please, send Dr. Berg a thank-you card and let him know just how vitally important his work is to women’s lives, and how much we appreciate him.
Robert E. Berg, MD
148 Madison Ave., Ste. 200
New York, NY 10016