Abortion Without Apology
December 2, 2019
Posted by Meaghan Winter
Discussed in this essay: Without Apology: The Struggle for Abortion Now, by Jenny Brown. Verso, 2019. 208 pages.
IN 1969, THE NEW YORK CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT hosted a panel of 15 speakers—14 men and one nun—to discuss the possibility of creating narrow exceptions to New York’s strict anti-abortion laws for women who had been raped or faced other special circumstances. In the midst of the proceedings, an action group from the feminist organization New York Radical Women stood up to dispute the event’s very premise. The protesters shouted that they did not want to bicker over exceptions to sexist laws that controlled women’s lives; they wanted full reproductive freedom. A month later, the action group—now known as Redstockings—held its own hearing. There, 12 women, addressing an audience of several hundred, talked about their abortions. This abortion speak-out, the first of its kind, helped draw conversations about abortion, long shrouded in secrecy and shame, into the public sphere.
Book excerpt: Unhelpful Arguments That Downplay the Importance of Abortion on Demand
Sept 30, 2019
The first shot in the feminist abortion wars was fired in 1969 in a New York City Health Department auditorium, where a panel of male psychologists, doctors, clergy, and lawyers (and one woman, a Sister Mary Patricia) debated exceptions to New York’s law forbidding abortion. They were discussing whether a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if her health was in danger, or if she had been raped, or if she had already given birth to four children.
A shout came up from a woman in the audience: “Now let’s hear from the real experts on abortion!” Then, “Repeal the abortion law, instead of wasting more time talking about these stupid reforms!” Then, “We’ve waited and waited while you have held one hearing after another. Meanwhile, the baby I didn’t want is two years old!” More women stood to object and testify. “Why are fourteen men and only one woman on your list of speakers—and she a nun?” The committee members “stared over their microphones in amazement,” wrote Edith Evans Asbury in the New York Times. The chair tried to shush the women, arguing that everyone was really on the same side: “You’re only hurting your own case.”