Sixty years ago:
ROE vs WADE DID NOT MAKE ABORTIONS POSSIBLE.
THERE WAS ALWAYS DIY
It has been more than 60 years since I last saw or thought much about abortions. Roe vs Wade made the procedure legal, safe for the mother and probably more commonplace. Roe did not make abortion possible. In 1958 self-induced abortion was not only possible but very common (between 200,000 and 1.2 million in the U.S.) and was extremely ugly.
As an orderly in the Emergency Ward of the Misericordia Hospital back then I saw the results of many DIY abortion attempts. While it has been over 60 years now, the memory of the explosion of the door bursting open, the gurney, the blood, and the whimpering young patient being wheeled in at 2:00 in the morning will never leave me. Ambulances didn’t have the good radios then so working the ward’s night shift, we didn’t know who, when or what to expect when a gurney burst in the door.
Those who worked the sunny daytime shift never saw the abortion cases. It was only after midnight when parents and siblings were asleep that the coat hangers came out. Then the teenage girl’s self-laceration would begin. Hope, fantasies, and prayers would allow her an hour or two more delay before the hemorrhaging, fluid flow and fear took their toll. Then in the late hours she abandons any hope of preserving her secret from friends and family. Panic let her to choose to get help and confront all of the consequences of all that she had done.
I was an impressionable 20-year-old pre-med college student working a summer job. Thinking back on that summer orderly job, there was endless exposure to nightly emergencies, to the life and death routine that is part of the grief and joy of hospital work. During those many predawn hours, the morality of terminating a fetus and mother’s right to make decisions about her body never entered our minds. Those were subjects that rested in the hands of moralists, feminists, clergy, politicians, and ethicists. But for us, when the Emergency room door banged opened and the blood-spattered gurney carrying the self-abortion cases arrived, we were simply focused on the girl, the procedures and rushing her to the O.R. It was easier and natural to focus more on the girl on the gurney than the fate of a fetus.
Every year there were hundreds of thousands of those cases back then. I felt and still feel revulsion and conviction that it was horrible, brutal and wrong. Currently, politicians have difficulty legislating abortion subject. But they are willing and able to appoint more conservative judges to revisit and fine-tune Roe. They probably view the “Pro-Life” fetus films, and quickly conclude that nothing could be worse than the hundreds of thousands of terminated lives that we have today. But they do not remember the coat hanger era of abortion. Could it be worse?
It was worse. Much worse. Roe changed a lot but didn’t enable abortions. It enabled safe abortions.