Abortion Public Health Women's Issues

Work Around New Antiabortion Laws

Number of Maternal Deaths from Abortion, data from the Guttmacher Institute

            Abortion has been practiced by all societies that anthropologists have studied. Most past ways of causing an abortion are either ineffective or dangerous—or both. Midwives prescribed herbs for centuries to cause abortion, but they can be fatal if the dose that is too large. Physical methods, like beating the woman’s swollen abdomen, were also frequent. Purposely falling down a flight of stairs was not uncommon. Perhaps the most frequent way of aborting a pregnancy in the 20th century, before Roe v. Wade, was to insert something into the uterus. Coat hanger wire or knitting needles were repurposed for this.

            Fifty years ago, when I was in general practice, I reviewed the chart of a woman in her 40s before meeting her. I learned that she had had a hysterectomy, then read the pathology report stating that there was a 6-inch splinter of wood found in the uterus.

            “How did it get there?” I asked innocently when I met her.

            “I don’t know” was her reply. Then it dawned on me.

            Other dreadful ways of attempting to terminate a pregnancy include douching with harsh chemicals, shooting the fetus while in the uterus, and suicide. The maternal mortality rate in the USA dropped precipitously in 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all states. I fear that the Dobbs decision will cause an increase in our country’s already high maternal mortality rate.

            Death is not the only problem caused by making abortion illegal or unobtainable in many states. A good friend of ours had an illegal abortion in the 1960s, but was unable to conceive later when she was married. It is likely her unsafe abortion caused an infection that prevented the desired pregnancy.

            In the past, women in Chicago took abortion care into their own hands—literally. The Jane Collective learned how to perform abortions safely and did so in the apartments of willing tenants, thereby escaping police detection. A California psychologist, Dr. Karmen, helped women by developing aspiration instruments for “Menstrual Extraction”. To avoid the abortion laws, ME was done before pregnancy was diagnosed. And the Clergy Consultation Service, established in New York, referred women nationally to willing physicians for safe abortions.

            Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision made it possible for states to outlaw abortion again, other ploys are being used to help women access safe abortions. Most take advantage of medication abortion, using 2 FDA-approved pills. Mifepristone and misoprostol are available by Internet; however, they are expensive and can take weeks to arrive. The advent of telemedicine has improved access in the USA.

            One plan is to have access to the medication available just over the border in a state that allows abortion. There is a new clinic in New Mexico, a few miles from Texas, so women can get the abortion pills if they cross the border. Planned Parenthood in Illinois will be providing the same service from a van for residents of Missouri and other neighboring states. Perhaps the most innovative work-around is in Arizona. Camelback Family Planning will perform the ultrasound and counseling, then the information is sent to a California doctor who then prescribes the medication. The woman picks up her pills at a post office in a California border town—all free, thanks to the Abortion Fund of Arizona.

            There are several funds that help women get to abortion clinics and also aid with the cost of abortion care, some local and some national. I donate to both Colorado’s Cobalt Abortion Fund and to the National Network of Abortion Funds—both are tax deductible.            

Almost 60 years ago the Clergy Consultation Service found ways around the laws that prohibited abortions. Now we have their experience, plus Internet and medication abortion. Although Dobbs is a setback, today women are better off than before Roe.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2022

Abortion Population Reproductive Health Women's Issues

Prevent the Supreme Court from Establishing a State Religion

Ann Telnaes Editorial Cartoon used with permission of Ann Telnaes and the Cartoonist Group. All rights reserved.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”             First Amendment to the United States Constitution

            The United States of America is becoming a theocracy. The Dobbs decision has bypassed the Congress by having the Supreme Court establishing a de facto religion which forces unwilling women to become mothers.

            So far this religion has evidenced itself with the Court’s failure to uphold the Roe v. Wade decision. The Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization gave power to individual states to regulate the legal status of abortion. Remember, the majority of Americans are prochoice, according to several recent polls. There are fears that more is to come, perhaps even resuscitating the Comstock laws which forbad use of contraception.

            Abortion has not always been frowned upon. Back when the Constitution was written, women’s healthcare was in the hands of women, including herbal abortifacients, and it is likely that men had no idea what was going on. It is silly to think that the Constitution would include anything about women’s healthcare, let alone abortion, yet part of the argument in the Dobbs decision is that there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution. Remember, the people at the Constitutional Convention were all white males! Abortion was acceptable in colonial America and didn’t become illegal until the mid-1800s.

            This new religion was sired by the coupling of rightwing politics and conservative religions, including Roman Catholicism and the evangelicals who have overtaken the South. The primary tenets of the new religion pretend to be in favor of narrowly defined “life”, claiming that human life begins when human sperm and egg meet. It appears that most followers of this new religion don’t care much what happens to the “life” except when it is in the woman’s reproductive tract—with little attention to the person who supports that uterus. After birth, they tend to not support healthcare, social services or education—especially sex ed. Teen pregnancy rates are highest where the evangelicals are strongest.

            In reality, the “prolife” people may be courting death. They are encouraging continued human overpopulation with consequent destruction of Creation. Humans are causing the massive extinction of species, many of which are essential to our own existence. Our clever synthesis and use of chemicals is toxifying the air and water with poisons, some of which last forever. And don’t forget the climate chaos that even Trump cannot ignore.

            The high priest of this new religion is Samuel Alito, the principal author of the Dobbs decision. His bishops are John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett; all supported the Dobbs decision. These 6 justices were all appointed by Republican presidents; the three dissenting justices were appointed by Democratic presidents. It is unlikely that this happened by chance. The unescapable conclusion is that this judgement was politically based.

            What can be done about this apparent incursion of a state religion into the USA? A group of religious leaders have sued the State of Florida, which has one of the most prohibitive abortion laws in the country. These leaders claim that that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new abortion law. One of them, Reverend Laurie Hafner of the United Church of Christ, stated “I am pro-choice not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith.”

            Similarly, a patient at Planned Parenthood asked me, after her abortion, “Are you a Christian?”

            “Yes”, I responded. “I am a Quaker. I feel obliged to perform abortions because it is one way I can help people and also help this overpopulated world.”

            Rather than preserving the sanctity of human life, as believers in this new religion profess, it worships the contents of a pregnant woman’s uterus and damns the imagined evil of abortion. This religion ignores the fact that one in five human pregnancies ends in a spontaneous abortion, also called “miscarriage”. If human fetuses are so holy, why does God allow miscarriages to happen?

            I am worried that minority religious beliefs are being imposed on the majority by a powerful minority. We must push back in the upcoming elections and send a signal to the Supremes that we won’t tolerate a state religion.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2022