Memories of pre-Roe America and navigating abortions

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Growing up in the 1960s, Susan Shurin learned that not getting pregnant was all about access.

Shurin, now a 77-year-old retired physician and former director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, attended high school and college in Massachusetts at a time when it was illegal to sell or distribute contraceptives in the state. She knew people who found ways around those restrictions — traveling to New York to get diaphragm contraceptives or, if they were already pregnant, abortions. But, she said, it required “money and know-how”.

Then, as a medical student at Johns Hopkins University, Shurin said she saw what could happen to those who couldn’t afford it.

“I have seen septic abortions. I can’t even count how many I’ve seen,” Shurin said, referring to abortions complicated by infection. She recalled that one of her first patients was a 40-year-old mother of four who died of a septic abortion – whom she had sought out because “her husband lost his job and they couldn’t afford another baby.”

Shurin said it was so common to see these cases in Baltimore in the late 1960s that when a young woman entered the hospital with a fever and chills, doctors had to rule out a septic abortion as one. the cause.

“It was incredibly traumatic to watch,” said Shurin, who was then in her twenties.

For women, despair and joy as Roe’s overthrow seems imminent

Shurin was not surprised when on Monday night Politico reported a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would completely overturn the landmark 1973 High Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade: “It’s coming,” she said. According to the report, five judges had voted in favor of a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The high court confirmed on Tuesday that the leaked draft opinion is genuine but not final. “This does not represent a decision of the Court or any member’s final position on the issues in the case,” he said in a statement.

Advocates on both sides of the issue have anticipated this moment – the weakening or complete reversal of deer – for decades. But only a small part remembers life beforedeera period defined by deep stigma around sex and limited access to contraception and abortion for women.

At the time, 17 states authorized the procedure. New York, with the most liberal policy, allowed it within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, as CBS reports. The rest prohibited it except to save the life of the pregnant person.

As the country faces the prospect of a post-deer future, The Washington Post spoke with people who remember life before the landmark decision.

Coming of age during Roe v. Wade: Women tell us how they saw the moment then and now

Kathy Nasal Peters, 75, was pleased with the contents of the leaked draft notice. A staunch anti-abortion advocate, Peters considered herself “pro-choice” in the 1960s, but said she didn’t give the issue much thought at the time. She saw it as part of a larger list of rights that women should have access to, such as equal pay.

But that changed after her first daughter was born in 1971, she said. Peters tried to get pregnant the following year but couldn’t. To A New York hospital awaiting the results of a urine test, Peters recalls sitting in a room with a woman who had just had an abortion.

“It was the first time I really, really thought about abortion, because I was like, ‘Here, I’m doing everything to get pregnant.’ And here next to me is this lady who doesn’t want a baby,” Peters said. “I couldn’t believe they did that.”

Several people told the Post that there was a deep stigma around premarital sex at the time, which fell squarely on the shoulders of women. Few received formal sex education in schools and access to contraception was limited. Some said they learned about sex privately, in conversations with friends, but neither sex nor abortion should be discussed openly, they said.

And before deerthe ability to get an abortion depended on where a person lived and what connections they had.

Some, like Dorie Barron, now 80, have relied on clandestine networks to end their pregnancies. She had two abortions in Illinois in the mid-1960s: one was mob-facilitated, she said, and the second through an underground network of women called “The Janes”.

Her first abortion, at age 22, “almost killed me,” Barron said.

Barron remembers being told to go to a motel room in Chicago. Two men and one woman said they provided three different levels of care, with “Cadillac” service being the best. Barron could only afford the cheapest tier, which cost a few hundred dollars, she said.

“The woman made me spread my legs, she inserted something inside me, and then they packed their gear,” she said. “In less than five minutes they were out of there.”

Barron said she continued to bleed after the procedure, but was able to find her way back. She lived with her mother, who sent her to the hospital, where she had to undergo an emergency operation. “And thank God I went,” she added.

The second abortion she had through ‘The Janes’ network was “totally different”. The women who facilitated the abortion seemed to really care about its outcome, said Barron, who also shared her story in a documentary on “The Janes” which will premiere on HBO.

“I’ve always been grateful for the care I received,” she said, so much so that she volunteered for the network herself.

Barbara Young, now a 72-year-old teacher living in Spain, didn’t think she could get pregnant. Since puberty, she hasn’t ovulated and has trouble getting her period.

But, in 1972, she did. “I was shocked when I got pregnant,” Young said. “I didn’t think I had a risk.”

A 22-year-old worker at an insurance company, Young said she thought having a baby wasn’t an option, even if she had to adopt: How would she hide her pregnancy at work?

She believed that if she went through with the pregnancy and came back childless, everyone would know what she had done. Young blamed herself for being “stupid enough” to get pregnant, she said.

During a group therapy session she had previously attended, Young opened up about her pregnancy and said she didn’t want to go ahead. She said she was referred to a therapist, who told her her health insurance would take care of everything.

In July 1972, at 16 weeks, she says, she received a saline infusion at a Boston hospital. (Abortion was illegal in Massachusetts except in cases where childbirth could endanger the patient’s life.)

“I don’t think there was any kind of sense of loss for your body. It was a relief: it’s over,” Young said.

Anthony Levatino, a “semi-retired” OB/GYN who teaches sophomore medical students, recalled teen pregnancy as a “rarity” at the rural upstate New York high school he attended . Getting pregnant as a teenager was a “first-rate scandal”, he said.

the year deer was decided, Levatino, now 69, was a medical student in New York attracted to obstetrics and gynecology because of the possibility of having “two patients in your care”.

At the time, he was an unqualified supporter of abortion.

Levatino said he rarely encountered septic abortions throughout his post-deer career and performed, according to her estimates, more than 1,200 abortions, including late-stage procedures that “no one was willing to touch.”

“I was dedicated,” he added.

Doubt finally began to creep in: When his wife struggled to get pregnant, Levatino said, he began to view abortion differently. “I’m throwing these kids in the trash,” he thought after performing the procedures. But his qualms about abortion “just evaporated” once they adopted a daughter, Heather, in 1978, and when his wife gave birth to their son 10 months later.

The real turning point came more than a decade after deerin 1984, when a car hit Heather outside their home. “She died in our arms in the back of an ambulance,” Levatino said.

The first abortion he performed after his death, Levatino said, he felt sick. When he looked at the remains of the fetuses he had aborted, he could only think of Heather.

“I have not seen [the patient’s] right to choose,” Levatino said. “All I could see was someone’s son or daughter.”

Many who oppose abortion, like Levatino, have been saddened by the broader acceptance of abortion in recent decades, and now a majority of Americans say the Supreme Court should affirm deer. Peters, for her part, doesn’t see why people would seek abortions when there are other birth control methods available.

“There’s contraception,” Peters said. “You don’t want to have children, well, just sterilize them. It’s not that difficult.

But for women like Deborah Rothschild, 73, she had two abortions after deer eventually helped her escape what she said was an abusive relationship.

Rothschild said she knew two girls who had previously had clandestine abortions deer and who were then unable to have children because of it. She sees the possible reversal of the decision legalizing abortions as a “step backwards”.

“It’s absolutely awful,” she added. “I mean, a lot of the gains that women have made…is because we’ve had the freedom not to have children when we don’t want to.”

Rothschild had abortions in 1975 and 1977. After leaving the abusive situation, she said, she went on to earn her graduate degree and work as a curator and writer.

“I don’t understand how women can’t be sympathetic to other women who find themselves making a mistake and then having to deal with that for the rest of their lives,” Rothschild said. “It’s just inhuman.”


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