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 my body."

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 hurt.

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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