Not Just a Medical Procedure
Not Just a Medical Procedure
By: Health Organizing Collective of the Women's Health and Abortion Project
Date: May 1973
Source: Vacuum Aspiration Abortion. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Health Organizing Collective of the Women's Health and Abortion Project, May, 1973. Available at: 〈http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/abortion/〉 (accessed March 2, 2006).
About the Author: The Women's Health and Abortion Project, located in Brooklyn, New York, was a group of forty women that provided health and abortion care to other women.
This document is the last page of a seven-page pamphlet entitled Vacuum Aspiration Abortion that was produced in 1973 by an organization called the Health Organizing Collective of the Women's Health and Abortion Project. The purpose of the pamphlet is to educate women about this abortion procedure. The first page of the pamphlet describes which abortion methods are suitable for which stages of pregnancy. The following pages describe how a woman can tell that she is pregnant, under what conditions a woman should have an abortion in a hospital rather than a clinic, how to seek counseling, what medical instruments are used, possible complications, and aftercare. The page reproduced below discusses the legal and political implications of abortion.
Abortion is more than a medical right. It's one of the ways we control our lives. It is a social and political issue.
As you know, on January 22, 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that women have a right to abortion. The court decided that:
- in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the state cannot restrict abortion. The decision to have an abortion is to be made by the woman and her doctor.
- in the second trimester (weeks 13-24), the state can impose restrictions in areas that are "reasonably related to maternal health," such as restrictions on medical facilities and persons that perform abortions and on abortion procedures.
- in the third trimester (24 weeks to term), the state can, if it chooses, prohibit or place restrictions on abortion. But the state cannot prevent an abortion if the physical or mental health of the woman is in jeopardy.
This argument is based on the 9th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Court extended the "right to privacy" to include a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.
There is no doubt that this decision is a victory for all women. But we have learned from our experience in New York City where abortion has been legal for several years that we must keep watch on the way abortions are provided.
- We must beware of unskilled abortionists.
- We must watch for restrictions that are built into state laws, into local regulations, or into hospital procedures. We must make sure that they are in the BEST INTERESTS OF WOMEN.
- We must be aware that businessmen (often doctors) in the multimillion dollar abortion business will use this law to make profits without necessarily meeting our needs as women. Vacuum aspiration abortions in New York cost between $100 and $200; saline abortions cost from $300 to $400, and they could cost much less. We must keep watch for profiteering of every sort. Report any abuses you encounter to your local Women's Liberation groups, Planned Parenthood, or Health Department.
- We must be aware that economists and population controllers may try to use legalized abortion to pressure women (especially poor women) who want babies to have abortions. For example, women have been led to believe that welfare departments can refuse aid to women who do not agree to an abortion. This is illegal. Any women who feels that an agency or institution is pressuring her to have an abortion against her will should contact a local Women's Liberation group, Welfare Rights Organization, or sympathetic consumer or legal group.
- We must see abortion as only one aspect of the quality health care we need to control our bodies.
- We must make it clear that control of our bodies means the RIGHT TO BEAR CHILDREN as well as the right not to, and that we need free maternity care, paid maternity leave, and free comprehensive day care.
The fact that there are unwanted pregnancies is only a symptom of how society has alienated us from our bodies. The fact that there is no truly adequate form of birth control and that we must keep such close watch on profiteering doctors are only two examples of how little the medical industry cares about our needs and rights.
It is not enough to have the "legal" right to abortion. It is not enough to lower slightly the price of abortion to any other medical procedure. These successes must be a part of an ongoing struggle by women to ensure that this society changes to meet everyone's needs.
This pamphlet—already in its second revision—was produced immediately following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, January 22, 1973. In Roe v. Wade, a seven to two majority of the Court decided that U.S. states did not have the right to make abortion illegal during the first three months of pregnancy.
Feminism is a multifaceted movement that seeks equality for women and the revision of formerly basic assumptions about sexual behavior that began to develop during the nineteenth century. Progress for the evolving feminist agenda was relatively slow during the first half of the twentieth century, consisting primarily of women gaining the right to vote in a number of countries. The 1960s and 1970s, however, were a period of particularly intense political, cultural, and social ferment in many Western societies, including the United States. Feminism—which argues that the equality of men and women must be reflected in art, law, politics, personal and sexual relationships, language, technology, medicine, the workplace, etc.—was renewed by the success of popular movements such as the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam-War movement. In the 1970s it became a major force in academia, politics, and the arts. The feminist magazine Ms. was founded in 1972. It was the first journal to advocate the title "Ms." as an option for woman comparable to "Mr." for men, both without reference to marital status. Also, a number of women's health collectives were founded. A collective is a nonprofit organization of people who come together to work on a common project and who usually make decisions in a non-hierarchical or consensus-based way; some feminist thinkers have argued that consensus is a more inherently female way of making decisions than winner-takes-all democracy or top-down command by leaders.
The women's health collectives were devoted to empowering women by making accurate, useful information about medical and sexual subjects available to them. The pamphlet Vacuum Aspiration Abortion, produced by the apparently short-lived Health Organizing Collective of Brooklyn, New York, is one such effort. The foremost product of this type, however, is beyond doubt the book Our Bodies, Ourselves (1970; eighth edition, 2005), a project of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, which remains active today.
In keeping with feminist thought, medical-empowerment documents like Our Bodies, Ourselves and Vacuum Aspiration Abortion, show frank illustrations of human bodies, medical tools, and other matters often avoided in polite conversation or media representations. Further, since 1970, one of the mottoes of the feminist movement has been "the personal is political"—meaning that sexual and private affairs cannot be isolated from the public realm of laws, politics, media, and money. This view is embodied in documents such as Our Bodies, Ourselves and Vacuum Aspiration Abortion by the inclusion of material not traditionally considered medical: personal stories, legal context, philosophy, ethics, and calls to political action. For example, on the final page of Vacuum Aspiration Abortion reproduced above, the Health Organizing Collective describes the main points of the Roe v. Wade decision and speaks of a number of other issues of concern to the writers: unskilled abortion doctors; the possibility that abortion foes will use state or local law to hamper access to abortion without actually banning it (in fact a successful tactic of anti-abortion activism since 1973); the possible use of abortion as a social engineering tool; the limited role of abortion ("only one aspect of the quality health care we need to control our bodies"); and the need to defend not only the right to abortion, but the right to bear children without being penalized by society.
The legality of abortion was politically and philosophically contentious before Roe v. Wade and remains so today.
Boston Women's Health Book Collective. "Our Bodies, Ourselves." 〈http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/〉 (accessed March 2, 2006).
CNN Interactive. "Roe v. Wade: 25 Years Later." 〈http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1998/roe.wade/〉 (accessed March 29, 2006).
Oyez. "Roe v. Wade." 〈http://www.oyez.org/oyez/resource/case/334/〉 (accessed March 29, 2006).