Geek. Gamer. Reader. Non-Compliant.

This is why.

Originally published at Jen’s Corner. You can comment here or there.

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Repairing the Damage, Before Roe


With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside.

When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe “bad old days.” Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.

I am a retired gynecologist, in my mid-80s. My early formal training in my specialty was spent in New York City, from 1948 to 1953, in two of the city’s large municipal hospitals.

There I saw and treated almost every complication of illegal abortion that one could conjure, done either by the patient herself or by an abortionist — often unknowing, unskilled and probably uncaring. Yet the patient never told us who did the work, or where and under what conditions it was performed. She was in dire need of our help to complete the process or, as frequently was the case, to correct what damage might have been done.

The patient also did not explain why she had attempted the abortion, and we did not ask. This was a decision she made for herself, and the reasons were hers alone. Yet this much was clear: The woman had put herself at total risk, and literally did not know whether she would live or die.

This, too, was clear: Her desperate need to terminate a pregnancy was the driving force behind the selection of any method available.

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger” — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.

We did not have ultrasound, CT scans or any of the now accepted radiology techniques. The woman was placed under anesthesia, and as we removed the metal piece we held our breath, because we could not tell whether the hanger had gone through the uterus into the abdominal cavity. Fortunately, in the cases I saw, it had not.

However, not simply coat hangers were used.

Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion — darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.

Another method that I did not encounter, but heard about from colleagues in other hospitals, was a soap solution forced through the cervical canal with a syringe. This could cause almost immediate death if a bubble in the solution entered a blood vessel and was transported to the heart.

The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.


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  1. I think that Roe v Wade is something of a . . . I don’t know the word. It’s not very stable and thus I think it’s caused much of the rift between left and right. Not because of abortion, per se.
    First, conservatives have various opinions on abortion. My conservative view is that we should err on the side of individual liberty and thus I support the right.
    Second, unless I misunderstand, the Supreme Court exists to uphold the constitution, and for that purpose alone.
    Third, there is no constitutional right to privacy (which is how the right to abortion is framed, unless I again misunderstand).
    IMO, A supreme court judge, whether conservative or liberal in personal beliefs, should uphold the constitution. As a conservative, I believe this. Were I a liberal, I would believe this. The reason that I believe it is that I want a document that frames what somebody in power can do, because I don’t know who will be in political power in the future. If that were not the case, we could elect a Hitler. I don’t like the idea of tyranny by majority.
    So the issue is that Roe v Wade puts people who want to retain the right to abortion in the position of being concerned about strict constitutionalist judges, because the decision was not (in my view) strictly constitutional. What we really need(ed) is a constitutional amendment. Of course, it wouldn’t pass at this juncture.
    That said, I don’t think that Roe v Wade is going anywhere. I think it’s done and will not be reviewed again by the courts. Of course, I could be wrong.
    I hope that I made sense.

    • You make perfect sense. And I hope you’re right about RvW.
      I’m not sure that privacy isn’t in the Constitution though: 4th amendment right to be secure in persons and papers.

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      I can see arguments where that wouldn’t apply, and where it would. I dunno, but I’m reading more history and the Supreme court doesn’t always “interpret” the Constitution the same way, and presidents have ignored them before – it’s interesting looking at how the balance was defined and shifted in the first decades of the Union.
      I’m afraid too many of the people we’ve elected (or not) give lip service at best to that “fucking piece of paper”.
      All I know is I’m reaaaaally uncomfortable with the government interfering with the health care that I and my doctor choose. :)

      • I agree, the 4th amendment could be interpreted that way. And if this is the argument for Roe v Wade, I (in my totally untrained unlawerly opinion) would agree that the ruling is more solid than I indicated in my previous message. I haven’t studied this too much, but it sounds like there’s a lot to think about.
        I agree about the government keeping their noses out of health care.

  2. And yet I know so many people who would say that these woman deserve the death they receive from trying to abort the child – with or without a medical doctor. *sigh*
    While I do think that life is very precious and that decisions like that shouldn’t be made lightly, why is it that the life of something that has yet to even see the world is valued over the life of someone who has loved, lost, and lived with so many people who love them in turn as well? That’s something I still fail to understand about the debate… :/

    • I agree. A person who is 8 years old is far more important that one who is 28, and infinitely more important than one who is 80. Pfeh.
      Potential is all well and good, but there’s something to be said for experience and accomplishments.

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