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A Feminist Doctor’s View on Abortion

A popular medical dictionary defines disease as ‘literally, a lack of ease’ and venereal disease as one ‘usually acquired through sexual intercourse.’ It is apparent therefore that unwanted pregnancy is a very common venereal disease. It is associated with immense physical, mental, social and economic suffering. In seeking to be cured of this disease, women, […]

A popular medical dictionary defines disease as ‘literally, a lack of ease’ and venereal disease as one ‘usually acquired through sexual intercourse.’ It is apparent therefore that unwanted pregnancy is a very common venereal disease. It is associated with immense physical, mental, social and economic suffering. In seeking to be cured of this disease, women, throughout history, have risked pain, mutilation and death, in numbers that stagger the imagination.

Many young people cannot remember what it was like before Jan. 22, 973, when the Supreme Court recognized that abortion was a woman’s right. But I was a medical student and young doctor in the late 60’s and early 70’s and what I saw before abortion was legalized was forever branded in my memory. In those days a woman was forced to place herself in the hands of unskilled and often unscrupulous abortionists when she was faced with a pregnancy she could not continue. I saw women brought into emergency rooms in septic shock, with perforated wombs, even disemboweled by incompetent butchers because their own physicians were prohibited by law from helping them. These experiences radicalized me and I joined the fight to legalize abortion.

Today, the right to safe, legal abortion is under attack by vicious right-wing fanatics who would return women to a state of reproductive slavery. They claim that abortion is murder because they believe that from the moment of conception a fetus is a human being. Well a fetus is no more a human being than an acorn is an oak. But even if the fetus, or the embryo, or to use the old Catholic teaching the sperm itself were defined as human, abortion should still be legal because the rights which anti-abortion laws give to the fetus are far in excess of the rights enjoyed by any human being in this society. No human being’s right to life includes the right to use another person’s body, or any part of it, without that person’s consent – not his kidney, his cornea, a graft of his skin or a pint of his blood. Yet anti-abortion laws give a fetus the right to occupy an unwilling person’s abdomen and to use not just her uterus but every major organ system in her body, without her consent. Forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is one of the vilest forms of sexual abuse.

We must inform the ignorant among legislators that forcing a woman to be pregnant is as repulsive as forcing her to have sex. Margaret Sanger, the birth control pioneer said that ‘no woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.’ The real issue is not viability, the real issue is not whether fetal life is human life. The real issue is shall women have the right to control their own bodies. Our answer must be a loud and resounding YES! We will never return to the days of back alley, coat hanger abortions. We will vote against legislators who would restrict the right to abortion. We will demonstrate, we will march, we will lobby and we will be victorious.

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