Pre-Roe v. Wade, Abortion in NYC Still Difficult in 1970

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. October 15, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 42

The New Abortion Law: Back to the Quacks By Robin Reisig

If you need an abortion after next Monday, when New York City's new health code on abortions becomes law, you may find yourself driven back to "illegal" abortionists. On the other hand, these new pariahs may serve you better and charge you less than some of the establishment doctors who fought abortion repeal but are now raking in on the results. If you go to a city hospital, chances are you may be delayed into a more difficult procedure, or even turned away if you have no cash in hand.

"It is my charge," said the Reverend Howard Moody of Judson Memorial Church, "that the Health and Hospitals Corporation, through a game of illusion, pretends that the city facilities are working beautifully and this encouraged the Board of Health to make the guidelines law." Last Wednesday Reverend Moody, speaking on behalf of the Clergy and Lay Advocates for Hospital Abortion Performance, told of massive failures in the city hospital system and charged, "there appears to be a conspiracy to control and limit the number of abortions under the new law." "In the days when abortions were illegal," he observed, "the first terrible anguish a woman faced was where she would obtain one. Her goal was shrouded in secrecy and she had to follow for days and weeks on end tips and leads as to where the abortion could be done. Today in the New York City system it's no different. A woman can spend days and weeks shoved from hospital to hospital before she finds one willing and able to assist her. There is no competent referral system worthy of the name."

With the false promises that abortions could easily be performed up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, that they would be readily accessible to the poor, and that they would be promptly available "on demand," the new compassionate law may be causing as much suffering as the old punitive law. For the new law dangles false hope before women who in the end may be told, as was one 19-year-old Queens girl, first to wait several weeks for her abortion appointment, then that the hospital was too busy to abort her after all, and that, since she was now (thanks to the wait) past 17 weeks pregnant, the Clearing House, the city system's last official resort, couldn't accept her.

What Moody called the "game of illusion," or confusion, or just plain duplicity, permeates every rosy report of the city system whose attitude at times seems to some women to be: let it bleed.

"There was a problem in July but this is just not so now,' Dr. Edwin F. Daily, director of the Health Department Clearing House for Abortion Service said last week. Yet, for example, on September 27 a woman in her 11th week of pregnancy, a week and a half from the cutoff point for the simpler, safer kind of abortion, was given an appointment by Kings County Hospital for December 4.

Municipal hospital officials say they have a "manageable" waiting list (with a drop off rate of 70 a week) "stabilized" at 2400. Yet if municipal hospitals do only 600 abortions a week, how can a waiting list four times that size be called "manageable"?

The Board of Health announced September 17 that the new law, restricting abortions to hospitals and very heavily equipped clinics, would take effect on October 19 and stated that the hospitals could handle the load. Yet the next day three municipal hospitals closed down their abortion operations; one of the hospitals thereby broke some 130 appointments for abortions, and in at least one case reportedly didn't' tell a woman she would not be aborted until she had waited from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in her hospital room without even being served a meal...

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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