When There Was No Choice

On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the memory of illegal abortion fades

Hanson, who lived through darker times, has noticed the shift. "To perform an abortion in a hospital is harder today than it was before Roe," says Hanson.

"Before 1973, I had no trouble scheduling them. You just had to find two doctors to sign the form," she says, referring to the paperwork declaring that a pregnancy threatened a woman's mental health. "Now if you want to do an abortion in a Minnesota hospital, you have trouble finding an anesthetist and a circulating nurse who will do it. There's more anti-abortion sentiment." Nevertheless, Hanson still performs abortions at 81 because of "personal commitment," as she puts it.

In New York, William Rashbaum, a 78-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist, also continues to work well past what many think of as retirement age. As with other veteran abortion doctors, Rashbaum's career has spanned many eras. He saw "gobs and gobs" of women with complications from illegal abortions during his training in New York City in the 1950s. Then Rashbaum went on to provide medical advice and backup to illegal abortionists before Roe. (One, in New Jersey, sent a limousine containing a pale, bleeding patient and the piece of her intestine he had accidentally cut off to Rashbaum's office.) And after abortions became legal, he provided them. Now as his practice winds down, Rashbaum worries that the right to safe, legal abortion is slipping away. "You'd be crazy not to worry," says the white-haired physician. "Abortion has always had a stigma. And now, instead of things getting better, they're getting worse."


Margaret  Sanger, 1879-1966: An early advocate for birth control, she lived to see it legalized for married couples, in 1965.
photo: Underwood & Underwood. 1922. Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-29808 Library of Congress
Margaret Sanger, 1879-1966: An early advocate for birth control, she lived to see it legalized for married couples, in 1965.

Details

WHY CHOICE MATTERS

210 million: Annual worldwide number of pregnancies

38: Percentage that are unplanned

22: Global percentage of unplanned pregnancies that end in abortion

46 million: Number of abortions performed annually worldwide

20 million: Number of these estimated to endanger women

20: Approximate number of years a woman seeking to limit her family to two children, without resorting to abortion, needs to successfully practice birth control

1 in 3: Number of American women who will have had an abortion by age 45

7: Number of people killed in the U.S. since 1993 for helping women get abortions


Sources: The Alan Guttmacher Institute and Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

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Sharon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Center for New York City Affairs at Milano Graduate School, New School University.

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