Prohibition Did Not Stop Americans from Drinking Alcohol; Overturning Roe V. Wade Will Not Stop American Women from Obtaining Contraception or Abortions
From the beginning of recorded time, many couples have sought to separate the act of intercourse from the birth of a child. Unfortunately, religious leaders and heads of state have historically also mandated “Be fruitful and multiply” and forbidden both contraception and abortions well into the 20th century.
Despite Church/State laws and, at times, horrific penalties against women, countless couples have made their own choices to limit their families to the numbers of children that they could adequately care for.
Medical monographs, historic gynecologic texts, and stories told by grandmothers reveal the amazing ranges of historic attempts to prevent pregnancies.
Men have tried various means to place sperm in a variety of sites away from contact with eggs. Male condoms, AKA “French letters,” have been crafted from an array of vegetable and animal coverings. Women have inserted an astounding list of substances and devices to prevent sperm from meeting eggs: beeswax, honey, paraffin, clay, dried sod, collar button studs, bottle caps….
Desperate couples have resorted to dangerous measures to self-induce abortions. Women douched with lead contaminated water, arsenic solutions, Lysol, and turpentine. And women swallowed large doses of laxatives and herbs to induce vomiting. All such methods were dangerous as well as ineffective but were attempted because accidental pregnancies can be devastating, especially to middle class and poorer families.
Let’s be clear: No one is “pro-abortion.”
But re: abortion, class differences have been and will remain life threateningly significant. Women of affluent families could always be cared for by well-credentialed private physicians. Common terms for illegal abortions were “menstrual extraction,” or a “back bay appendectomy,” or ”getting it taken care of.” Affluent families could also travel to Puerto Rico, Canada, or Western Europe for a safe abortion. Accordingly, affluent women rarely died from hemorrhage or sepsis.
But before Roe v. Wade, middle class and poor women were left with few options: self-abortion via the classic “coat hanger” method, or a barely affordable barbaric “back alley butcher.” In the 1950’s and 1960’s the CDC recorded about 2,000 maternal deaths per year from abortion complications, mostly in lower income women, which amounted to about 20% of all maternal deaths.
Smaller towns in the Midwest are known by oral history of older women to have had safe abortions provided by ethnic midwives who came to the woman’s home. It’s unknown how widespread this practice might have been.
So passage of Roe v. Wade was enacted to save women’s lives, most of whom were already mothers. Roe v. Wade never promoted or increased abortions as stated by right-wing religious and political zealots. But Roe v. Wade has decreased maternal deaths from unsafe abortions.
As of 2016, 1 in 4 women under the age of 45 has had an abortion, without risking their lives to do so. Additionally, the rate and the numbers of abortions have dropped dramatically over the past decade as much more reliable contraception has been developed and made affordable to all families.
Many families wonder why the far right continues the outright lie that “all birth control methods cause abortions.” As Dr. C. Everett Koop stated, “The best way to decrease abortions is to make contraception widely available.” As many remember, Dr. Koop was an Evangelical Christian pediatrician appointed to be Surgeon General by President Reagan. Dr. Koop was personally against abortion, but did not impose his personal views on the American people whose health he was appointed to protect.
The current SCOTUS nominee, Brett Kavanaugh (attorney), and Dr. Rand Paul (ophthalmologist) have wrongly labeled current methods of contraception as “abortion inducing.” Both men should do their own research on the ACOG website (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) to obtain scientifically accurate information rather than obtaining medical information from sources having NO gynecologic expertise.
One wonders if some of the young women in the affluent Catholic school where Mr. Kavanaugh volunteers might use some form of contraception, because their gynecologists know today’s birth control methods are safe and effective and, in many cases, medically indicated for some gynecologic conditions.
So what happens if/when Roe V. Wade is overturned? And what happens when so called “religious freedom” allows employers to deny affordable contraception to employees through health insurance?
Affluent women will be fine. They will continue to obtain the contraception or the safe abortion they desire without difficulty. Women who are mistresses of congressmen will be pressured to have abortions as occurred with Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R) in 2015 and Rep. Tim Murphy (R) in 2017.
Working class and low income women will be denied their right to effective contraception and there will be more unplanned or crisis pregnancies. Lower income women will be denied the safe abortions that affluent women will continue to be able to obtain. Some women will cross into Canada or Mexico for medical abortions, which will be less safe without adequate medical follow-up. Unlicensed abortionists will provide surgical abortions and women’s deaths from hemorrhage and infections will again increase.
Roe v. Wade is not just a woman’s privacy and reproductive civil rights issue; it is a class issue. All women have the right to the same state-of-the- art medical care, regardless of ability to pay.
Politicians and religious leaders have no right to interfere with women’s health care, or with women’s lives. All men have the right to confidential medical care and all women must have the very same right to confidential medical care. Religious leaders and politicians cannot be allowed to intrude into any exam room or any doctor/patient relationship. Ever.
–Karen J. Pataky, Chair, Health Policy Task Force