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.”
The First Time Women Shouted Their Abortions
Fifty years ago, a group of women stood up in a church and talked about ending their pregnancies. The way they did so still shapes how we discuss the topic today.
By Nona Willis Aronowitz
March 23, 2019
You couldn’t just casually threaten suicide — you had to sound like you meant it, the woman onstage recalled. “You have to go and bring a razor, or whatever: ‘If you don’t tell me I’m going to have an abortion right now, I’m going to go out and jump off the Verrazzano Bridge.’”
The woman was speaking in 1969. Legalized abortion nationwide was still four years away; in New York, so-called therapeutic abortions were legal — but only if a doctor judged you mentally unfit to have a child. And so, the woman explained, she ended up seeing two psychiatrists who, to her relief, deemed her suicide threats real enough to be granted the procedure. The crowd clapped and roared at the absurdity of it all, until the woman explained that after her abortion, she was stuck in the maternity ward to recover — right next to crying babies. The crowd wasn’t laughing anymore.