Saturday, September 15, 2007

Four Abortion Stories


When the Roe v. Wade decision was announced in 1974, I was living in Rhode Island. At the time abortion was legal in New York State, a four-hour train ride away. Anyone I knew, knew that. They would have had no problem obtaining a legal abortion. But that left out a lot of women. In Providence an ad hoc abortion counseling service was formed to inform women of the options open to them. This was breaking the law, as the Rhode Island legislature had deemed it illegal to even tell someone that in New York abortions were legal. When there was a demonstration at the statehouse to try and get the law overturned, one of the legislators came over to offer a private word of encouragement. For political reasons, he had to support the anti-counseling law, but not long ago, his teenage daughter had gone to New York to have an abortion. So he wanted us to know in confidence that he thought we were right.


About ten years ago, I was assigned by the now-defunct American Benefactor Magazine to write a profile of Alexander Sanger, then President of Planned Parenthood of New York City. On my first day of reporting, Sanger was to speak on the steps of City Hall, and beforehand I sat in on a meeting of his security people. It was intense. They discussed who would be stationed where during Sanger’s speech, as well as the exact route the driver should follow in taking him to the site. I wondered if this was really necessary until I learned that Sanger had received some very specific death threats that week. Why? He had written a letter to the Wall Street Journal opposing the ban on late-term abortions that the Supreme Court has just upheld. P.S.: My article was never published, and my editor confided that her boss had not realized quite how controversial Planned Parenthood was when he made the assignment. Sanger now writes a blog on reproductive freedom:


I wonder what my religious conservative relatives are thinking today? Their church is fiercely opposed to abortion and so are they. Yet when a family member was left at the altar, pregnant, she had an abortion. That is the story I heard, at any rate.


When my daughter was in college she was a volunteer escort at an abortion clinic. She and the clients she escorted were subjected to the usual hatefulness from the right-to-life regulars. She wrote an essay about the experience that was accepted for the opinion column by a major news magazine. The piece was edited and fitted to space and a photographer came to take her picture. And then, just hours before presses rolled, the top editor read the essay and killed it. Too controversial, even for an opinion column, apparently. The essay eventually ran in Newsday.

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