4 Women On What It Was Like Before Abortion Was Decriminalized In Canada
Yes, access has radically improved since 1988—but we can’t be complacent.
by Rachel Chen
Updated Jan 7, 2020
Abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988, after pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler successfully challenged the constitutionality of Canada’s abortion law. Three decades later, access to both medical and surgical abortion isn’t perfect—especially for women in rural areas—but it’s radically better than what it once was. Still, as we see threats to Roe v. Wade (the landmark case that gave Americans a right to abortion) growing next door in the United States, it is important to remember how we got where we are.
Here, four women share what it was like to be faced with an unwanted pregnancy prior to 1988—and why we can never go back to such restrictive access.
The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Story by Caitlin Flanagan
December 2019 Issue
(Posted Nov 11, 2019)
In 1956, two American physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
Former Member Of 'Jane' Abortion Service Remembers Time Before Roe v. Wade
July 29, 2019
A number of states have passed laws this year restricting access to abortion, raising concerns among activists that the debate could reach the Supreme Court and possibly lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
This was the 1973 decision that legalized abortion across the country. Laura Kaplan remembers a time before abortion was legal. She was a member of the Chicago group, Jane, also know as The Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, which provided abortions to women illegally.
Not Your Grandmother’s Illegal Abortion
By Jennifer Block
July 1, 2019
The sola variety of papaya resembles a pregnant uterus, so much so that around the world, humans use the fruit to learn one method of modern reproductive health care: manual vacuum aspiration, or MVA, a low-risk, low-tech method of first-trimester abortion that requires little or no anesthesia. As one doctor remarked at a conference in 1973, where the technology was introduced to physicians from around the world, “it’s something we will be able to bring practically into the rice paddy.”
This, too, is the fruit I have been given to practice on. I’ve placed it on a table across from me, and I’m focused on the neck, where its stem grew, which evokes the cervical os. The tool I’m using is a large plastic syringe with a bendable plastic strawlike thing, called a cannula, where the needle would be. At the top of the syringe is a bivalve to create one-way suction.
How did women get abortions when they were illegal? A 1966 Post series reveals the answer
Before Roe v. Wade, women died trying to end their pregnancies
The Lily News
June 13, 2019
Original story by Elisabeth Stevens for The Washington Post.
As new abortion restrictions are being imposed in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Utah and other states, nearly a half-century after Roe v. Wade, The Washington Post is looking back at a four-part series that ran in January 1966 on how women in the Washington area obtained abortions. At the time, abortion was illegal with few exceptions in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Below is an abridged version of The Post’s four-part series, edited to highlight personal experiences. The original headlines of the series are now subheads for each section.
The forgotten history of Canadian women who travelled around the world for abortions
By Rachel Browne, National Online Journalist Politics Reporter Global News
May 26, 2019
In 1969, a Toronto woman became panicked when she learned she was pregnant. She had recently switched to a new birth control pill, which had clearly failed. The idea of abortion had never occurred to her until then, but now she was determined to end a pregnancy that she did not want. And she was willing to travel thousands of miles to do so.
This forgotten history of women travelling abroad for abortions decades ago provides insight into the barriers that continue to exist for women across the country today, even though the procedure is completely legal.
How abortion has changed since the Roe v. Wade ruling in the U.S.
By David Crary and Carla K. Johnson
The Associated Press
May 26, 2019
A wave of state abortion bans has set off speculation: What would happen if Roe v. Wade, the ruling establishing abortion rights nationwide, were overturned?
Although far from a certainty, even with increased conservative clout on the Supreme Court, a reversal of Roe would mean abortion policy would revert to the states, and many would be eager to impose bans.
‘Abortion Regret’ Shows the Long History of a Favorite Anti-Choice Talking Point
Apr 19, 2019
Dr. Cynthia Greenlee
Abortion rights supporters tout relief as the signature emotion that most abortion seekers experience after their procedures. Anti-choicers have their own frequently publicized post-abortion feeling: regret.
As the recent book Abortion Regret: The New Attack on Reproductive Freedom by scholars Shoshanna Erlich and Alesha Doan argues, emotions don’t occur in a vacuum. As individual and in-the-moment as emotions appear, their meanings—and how they are expressed—are socially and politically constructed, sometimes in complex ways and sometimes in simplistic binaries that say “men punch walls when they get angry” and “women cry.”
Midwife Means "With Woman": 'Call the Midwife' and the History of Abortion in England
in History, by Janet Mullany
It’s 1964 and things are changing in Poplar on Call the Midwife.
A dad actually asks to be at the, ah, interesting end of his child’s birth and is firmly put in his place, and more women want to give birth in hospitals. Hemlines are rising as Britain becomes a fashion powerhouse. Yet some things just don’t change. As now, an obsession with royal births rules (and if you really want to know, apparently bets are now at 1:2 that Meghan and Harry’s baby will be a girl, with the top name predicted to be Diana. Yes, British bookies do big business during royal pregnancies). And sadly, not every birth is joyfully anticipated, and many women, particularly poor women in an area like Poplar, have few options for help.
Call the Midwife star Jennifer Kirby reveals abortion storyline will continue in future episodes
[This series is on Netflix]
By Eleanor Bley Griffiths
Monday, 14th January 2019
“When you’re there and you’re filming the scenes, it’s always more shocking than you’d think,” says Jennifer Kirby.
She’s talking about the first episode of Call the Midwife series eight, where her character Nurse Valerie Dyer decides to help a desperate woman miscarrying after a backstreet abortion. “I don’t care how this has come about, I’m going to help you, do you hear me?” she says.