Revolution #51, June 18, 2006

Correspondence from a reader on...

Voices of Choice

We received the following from a reader.

“There is nothing immoral about terminating an unwanted pregnancy or removing a clump of cells that have not yet developed into a viable human being from a woman’s body. A fetus is not a baby. If a woman doesn’t want to continue a pregnancy all the way (for whatever reason), she should have the freedom to end it, safely and easily. There is nothing tragic about it—indeed, the real tragedy lies in the lives of women that are foreclosed and disfigured and even ended by being compelled to have children that they do not want, a tragedy that happens millions of times a day on this planet, with the connivance and support of the U.S. government.”

—From “The Morality of the Right to Abortion…And the Immorality of Those Who Oppose It,” Revolution #38, March 12, 2006

I can’t get this passage out of my head since reading the stories that are part of a project by the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Heath (PRCH) called “Voices for Choice.” These are stories of women and the the people who have helped women end unwanted pregnancies before and after the Roe v. Wade decision. The lives and struggles of these women changed the doctors, nurses, and providers who were confronted with the horrors of forced reproduction, compelling them to challenge the laws and thinking of the time and to act to stop a great injustice. They are telling these stories now because once again abortion and birth control are under tremendous attack and already unavailable for many women in vast areas of this country and around the world. Spearheaded by the Christian fascists, the Bush regime is on the verge of pushing women back into a state of reproductive slavery. Women’s lives are again needlessly being destroyed. We must boldly confront this truth, fight to bring a scientific understanding of reproduction to people broadly in society, and stop this horror from being repeated.

The following are few of the stories and descriptions of doctors and providers from the “Voices for Choice” project. The full transcripts of these powerful testimonials are available online at and on DVD from PRCH.

“A Powerful Motivating Factor”

Dr. Curtis Boyd is currently in private practice, specializing in abortion services. During the sixties, Dr. Boyd provided thousands of illegal abortions to women at his office in Athens, Texas and then later in Dallas. In the field of abortion technology, Dr. Boyd has a national reputation for contributions in the areas of pain management, reduction of surgical risks, second trimester abortion methods and the establishment of guidelines and standards for abortion facilities.

“A young Indian woman, a Sioux, came to see me. She was from the Dakotas, and was at the University of Chicago, where she had gotten a scholarship. She was the first member of her family to ever go to a university. She rode a bus from Chicago to Athens, Texas to get an abortion.

“Another woman came from Austin, Texas, a Mexican-American woman who spoke no English. She had a large number of children; she was in her late 40s. In that day, there was no Spanish-speaking person in Henderson County, nor any of the surrounding counties. She came on the bus, and she got there after we were closed. She showed up at the office the next day and I found out that she had slept in the hospital restroom. She knew the hospital was open all night, and she hid back in the stall in the restroom, laid down and took a nap. There was a toilet and a wash basin. So that was her hotel room.

“Women were desperate not to be pregnant. And then to walk out alive and intact when they’d come from great distances. They didn’t know me. These were strangers, women I’d never seen before and I’d never see again, and they were treated with respect, with dignity. They didn’t have much pain, and they were alive and going to get up off the table and walk out. They were just so filled with gratitude and expressive with their feelings. That’s a powerful motivating factor.”

“I Still Remember That Patient”

Dr. Harry Jonas has been a member of the Board of Directors of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health since 1997. He currently serves as special consultant to the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, where he served nine years as dean. Prior to his return to his home state of Missouri, Dr. Jonas served for 13 years as Assistant Vice President for Medical Education at the American Medical Association. As a young physician, Dr. Jonas was a witness to numerous casualties of illegal abortion, and was active in his efforts to change the abortion law both locally and federally.

“I had a galvanizing experience that got me started in the pro-choice movement. When I was a first-year intern at the Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, the first patient I had was a woman who’d had 11 children and had self-aborted herself, because she couldn’t get a legal abortion, with some instrument of some kind. And I was in charge of her case, as a young intern, with her intestine coming out of her vagina because she’d perforated the vagina with the instrument. And she had massive infection, multiple abscesses in all the vital organs in the body and she died.

“I still remember that patient. I remember exactly what she looked like. I remember the bed she was in on Ward 1418 in Barnes Hospital. I remember seeing her in the emergency room when she came in, and she told us that she was desperate because she had a husband that was gone most of the time and a troublemaker. And she could not raise another child. She could not feed another child. She had not been able to find any doctor that would help her. I’ll never forget that.”

“Mississippi Appendectomy”

Ms. Byllye Avery, a life long activist, is founder of the National Black Women’s Health Project. Prior to Roe v. Wade Ms. Avery was a leader in the underground abortion referral network where she lived in Jacksonville, Florida.

“If a woman elected to have a baby, and she was a low-income woman and it was decided that she’d had too many children or if she got pregnant and went to the doctor and asked for an abortion her option was the same: ‘I’ll give you an abortion but you have to have a hysterectomy.’ The same thing was done with the woman who had a baby, and they’d determined that she’d had enough children. She would be given what was called a ‘Mississippi Appendectomy.’ And that was a hysterectomy, or her tubes were tied while she was under anesthesia. So she woke up with a baby but she also woke up with an inability to reproduce, without her permission.”

“She Should Have Had the Right to Terminate That Pregnancy”

Dr. Robert Tamis has been a physician for more than 30 years. He is currently with the Arizona Reproductive Medicine and Gynecology, Ltd. Prior to Roe v. Wade, Dr. Tamis was part of the clergyman referral service in Arizona, where he performed legal abortions through the hospital system. He was also active in his efforts to change the abortion law in his state.

“Around ‘64, ‘65, this girl went to a high school prom of some kind. She was gang-raped after the prom by five boys. They were all charged, found guilty and all sent to prison for six months. She got pregnant from that rape and she gave that baby up for adoption. When she was in labor, all she could say was, ‘All those guys got was six months.’ What did she get? She got nine months of her pregnancy. She got the pains of labor and delivery. She had the emotional horror of having been raped, not just once, but five times.

“I can’t imagine that young woman could not have been tremendously, emotionally, negatively impacted by that event. What benefit was there in forcing her to continue with the pregnancy? If she felt that the horrors of all the things that happened to her were such that she didn’t want to continue this pregnancy, then she should have had the right to terminate that pregnancy.”

“If Roe V Wade Were Repealed, I’d Go Right on Doing Abortions”

Dr. Mildred Hanson is now Medical Director of her own clinic after spending 30 years as Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota. Because of the lack of abortion providers in her part of the country, Dr. Hanson sees patients from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota. Prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, Dr. Hanson provided women with abortions within the hospital system.

“Unwanted pregnancy—unwanted parenthood—clearly is bad for society, and it is bad for the woman who endures it.

“If Roe v. Wade were repealed, I think I’d go right on doing abortions. It isn’t like it was years ago, when I had responsibilities to my children. I think I’d go right on doing abortions. And I would frankly just wait for them to come and get me, because I would want to demonstrate that this is a detriment to the health of women. We’ve already shown that safe, legal abortion has improved the health of American women. Our experience since Roe v. Wade has convinced us so strongly of the need for safe, legal abortion. I feel more strongly about it now than I did in the days before Roe v. Wade. These days, I would go right on doing it. I would wait for the cops to come and take me. Absolutely.”

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