From the beginning of recorded time, there have been many couples who have chosen to separate the act of intercourse from the birth of a baby. For many of humankind, some religious leaders and heads of states have outlawed both contraception and abortion, historically and to present day.
Despite Church/State laws, and some horrific penalties against women, countless couples have always made private choices to limit the number of children in their own families. Medical monographs, historic gynecologic texts, and stories related by grandmothers reveal amazing ranges of historic attempts to prevent pregnancies.
Men have also 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 a variety of animal and vegetable coverings. Women have inserted an astounding list of substances to interfere with sperm meeting egg: beeswax, honey, paraffin, clay, dried sod, button studs to name a few. And women have tried to induce their own abortions by douching with arsenic, leaded water, turpentine, Lysol, and induced or vomiting with similar dangerous substances. Many such methods were lethal.
But accidental pregnancies can be financially devastating to middle class and poor families, and couples were forced to seek measures that jeopardized women’s lives.
Let’s be clear. No one is “pro-abortion,” but class differences will always remain life threateningly significant, for working class and poorer women and their families. Women of affluent families always had access to well credentialed physicians who provided safe procedures in private offices, or travel to Puerto Rico, Canada, or Western Europe. Until the 1960s the CDC recorded around 2000 maternal deaths per year from “back alley abortions,” which amounted to 20% of all maternal deaths, most of whom were already mothers.
So, Roe v Wade was enacted to save women’s lives, by making the same safe medical care available to all women, regardless of financial circumstances. At the time, the Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, was a devout Evangelical physician. But he deemed all women’s lives to be of great importance. Since Roe v Wade was enacted, Thousands of women’s lives have been saved by ending the “Back-Alley Abortions.” Dr. Koop also encouraged the importance of inexpensive and widely available contraception.
Tragically, today we have religious leaders and politicians who would again end abortions and all methods of birth control and thousands of women would again be sacrificed on the altar of ignorance and male power.
—Karen Pataky, Chair, Health Policy Task Force