A few years ago, my husband and I were discussing the right wing, and I said they were going to try and overturn Roe v. Wade. My husband disagreed, because, as he put it, that would be incredibly difficult. So you can imagine his utter shock at the news that GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson recently stated he wants to do exactly that.
Simply put, Roe v. Wade made abortion safe and legal. Prior to Roe v. Wade, women who needed an abortion were forced to visit questionable clinics and doctors, doctors who performed the procedure could be arrested, and women died. Actress Polly Bergen had an illegal abortion that left her infertile and nearly ended her life:
Someone gave me the phone number of a person who did abortions and I made the arrangements. I borrowed about $300 from my roommate and went alone to a dirty, run-down bungalow in a dangerous neighborhood in east Los Angeles. A greasy looking man came to the door and asked for the money as soon as I walked in. He told me to take off all my clothes except my blouse; there was a towel to wrap around myself. I got up on a cold metal kitchen table. He performed a procedure, using something sharp. He didn’t give me anything for the pain — he just did it. He said that he had packed me with some gauze, that I should expect some cramping, and that I would be fine. I left. (source)A cold, metal kitchen table in a run-down bungalow. Dr. Daniel Mishell, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, remembers what it was like before Roe v. Wade:
Dr. Daniel Mishell is now professor and chairman of the ob-gyn department at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. In the years before Roe vs. Wade, he was a resident at Harbor General Hospital near Torrance and later at what is now County-USC hospital.The women he treated "were the sickest patients, I'll tell you that, because of what they did and the infections they got" -- appalling infections like gas gangrene, which killed tissue and sometimes the patient. "We had ladies who got so infected they went in shock and their kidneys shut down. A lot of them did die."
At any one time, 15 or 20 women lay in the county hospital septic abortion ward, an additional half a dozen at Harbor. They were too sick to talk, but Mishell knew the common thread: usually unmarried and abandoned by the man, uniformly, suicidally desperate.
They jabbed into their uteruses with knitting needles and coat hangers, which Mishell sometimes found still inside them. They stuck in bicycle pump nozzles, sometimes sending a fatal burst of air to the heart. They'd try to insert chemicals -- drain cleaner, fertilizer, radiator-flush -- and miss the cervix, corrode an artery and bleed to death. Mishell once put a catheter into a woman's bladder and "got a tablespoon of motor oil."
"I'm telling you, it was really an awful situation. It touched me because I'd see young, [otherwise] healthy women in their 20s die from the consequences of an infected nonsterile abortion. Women would do anything to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. They'd risk their lives. It was a different world, I'll tell you."
(Why didn't they just get birth control, you wonder. Because some state laws still defined contraception as "obscene," and not until 1965 -- in living memory of some of you reading this -- did the Supreme Court say contraceptives were legal for married couples. The unmarried didn't get that right until 1972.)
The women Mishell treated were poor working women. The rich had other means of breaking the laws against abortion, with doctors as discreet as they were expensive. Mishell spent 1961 working in Sweden, and remembers frequent calls from colleagues back home wanting to send their pregnant, prosperous patients over to get abortions.When people like Ben Carson say they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, this is what they want. Women will not stop getting abortions. What they will do is end up on a cold, metal table, with a person standing over them who may or may not have medical training. Women will become septic, end up in hospitals, die. They will be rendered infertile.
Overturning Roe v. Wade has nothing to do with preserving life. Many conservatives view women with contempt, and women who need an abortion as whores, trollops, sinners. Remember, the right wing desperately tried to redefine rape, and quite a few of them oppose abortion exemptions for rape and incest. Louie Gohmert told a woman who aborted her brain-dead fetus after 20 weeks she should have carried that fetus to term, "just in case."
Conservatives don't care if women die. Conservatives don't really care about children; if they did, they wouldn't continue to call for massive cuts to social programs that help families. This is about power. And if someone like Ben Carson becomes president in 2016, they will exercise their power to nominate judges to the Supreme Court who share their vision.
If Ben Carson was truly pro-life, he would realize abortion must remain safe and legal. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion; Dr. Mishell's experiences are proof of that. What it will end is the ability of low-income women to receive a safe medical procedure. In reality, this is just another attempt by conservatives to punish and shame the poor.
In the end, it's up to us. Will we protect women and families from the sadistic idealism of conservatives, or will we be silent? If abortion is made illegal, women will die. Women will be rendered infertile. How is that pro-life? Use your voice, and your vote, to stand up for what is right. Visit the following links to find out you can help.