Then I got it. My students were unable to imagine the possibility of safe illegal abortions. Having been raised in the post-Roe era, their perception was that legal abortion is automatically safe and illegal abortion is, by definition, deadly. My own role as an abortion care worker—a dozen years as an abortion patient advocate, and positions on the national boards of NARAL and the Abortion Conversation Project (www.abortionconversation.com/)—underscores the need for legal abortion in the U.S. today. At the same time, I am committed to remembering and teaching a more complete history of reproductive politics, one that acknowledges that safety cannot be determined by legality.
I certainly do not think that criminalization was a benign state to which we should return. But I am interested in rethinking the way we talk about the history of “illegal abortion” in the U.S. in order to develop better strategies for talking about the power of women’s activism.
What if, for instance, we are more careful to distinguish among the many different kinds of illegal abortion in the U.S.? Certainly, we want to maintain strong criticism of “back alley” providers, those illegal abortion providers, historically and today, who have exploited women economically and sometimes abused women sexually. At the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the differences between those abusive illegal abortion providers and reputable extralegal providers like Madam Restell in the 19th century and Ruth Barnett in the 20th. Barnett, the subject of historian Rickie Solinger’s book The Abortionist, provided safe and effective extralegal abortion to women on the west coast from 1918 through 1968. Solinger is careful to note that Barnett is but one example of many reputable extralegal providers active in the U.S. until the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.
But if abortion is illegal, women will die of abortion! That's what they all said during the 70s and 80s.
Wasn't that the whole point of legality, to implement harm reduction?
Now it'd be nice if the pro-aborts would take into account all the abortionists today who exploit women-- the Kermit Gosnells, Steve Brighams, Nicola Rileys, the James Pendergrafts and so forth.
You never hear of them denouncing them to police or the local doctors' group for disciplinary hearings.
I'd also like to address a couple of other points in the post.
She is entirely correct when she says:
The criminalization of abortion in the U.S. was related more closely to changes in education of medical practitioners than to changes in popular attitudes about abortion.
Yes, it was due to the efforts of doctors that abortion was criminalized not due to public opinion. Although I do contest the suggestion in her post that abortion was accepted.
What is is that is stopping pro-life legislation from being passed in Canada?
If you analyze the political dynamics of the debate, the strongest opponents are always doctors' groups, especially doctors' groups from Quebec (that and the Quebec media).
Because otherwise, the opposition to pro-life legislation in the ROC is not strong enough to hold it back.
Pro-lifers should be working on influencing the medical field in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
If we can educate and persuade doctors about the evils of abortion, that would get the ball half-way to the endzone.
She also writes:
Until the mid1800s in the United States, abortion was either a legal or a nonregulated practice controlled mostly by women.
Simply not true. Joseph Dellapenna's Dispeling the Myth of Abortion History provide several examples of prosecution against abortion under the Common Law. I highly recommend it to all pro-lifers.