The first time we stood up together to talk about our abortions,
Florence M. Rice, the Harlem consumer activist and star of black
radio, was 50; I was a 34-year-old medical journalist. It was March
1970, during the final countdown to legalization in New York. Rice
and I were invited to speak out at the Judson Memorial Church, home
of an underground abortion service in Greenwich Village, the very
neighborhood where radical feminists introduced such provocative
slogans as "abortion is no man's business" and "keep your laws off
Rice, a former domestic worker, described her back-alley ordeal:
how she became sick from it, how she was carried into Harlem Hospital
where a nurse informed her that she hadn't been expected to live.
In contrast I, whose teen-age boyfriend had access to the princely
sum of $500 (it was 1954!), knew of a respectable Manhattan doctor
whose clandestine abortion practice had rendered him adept at both
local anesthesia and uterine evacuation. My abortion didn't even
Let no one doubt, Florence and I avowed, that desperate women have
abortions whether the law allows them or not; that abortion rates
are similar in "legal" and "illegal" cultures, the difference being
that in "illegal" cultures, many more women either die in the process
or have their health ruined; that most victims of botched abortion
are poor, since quality clandestine abortions can be obtained almost
everywhere--for a price.
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