New York Times Abortion Essay

•June 3, 2008 • 3 Comments

I am posting the full text of this essay because it has been my experience that the NY Times website makes it difficult to access archives, and I want every person reading this post to know precisely what has been said. Women do not simply deserve full humanity and citizenship (and thus ownership of our bodies), we need these things. All the statistics tell us that historically and currently, in the US and internationally, in ‘First’, ‘Second’, and ‘Third World’ nations, the rate of abortions performed remains constant regardless of the state of legality. So no, even fixing economics, even creating ‘religious states’, even offering birth control and medical care do not and will not replace the basic need for women to have the absolute legal right to safe medically supervised/performed abortions. Unless you believe that being a woman is an offense punishable by execution. And if you do, you may take full personal responsibility for every woman murdered by legal policies that prevent women from obtaining safe abortions.

Repairing the Damage, Before Roe

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Published: June 3, 2008

With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside.  When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe “bad old days.” Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.

I am a retired gynecologist, in my mid-80s. My early formal training in my specialty was spent in New York City, from 1948 to 1953, in two of the city’s large municipal hospitals.

There I saw and treated almost every complication of illegal abortion that one could conjure, done either by the patient herself or by an abortionist — often unknowing, unskilled and probably uncaring. Yet the patient never told us who did the work, or where and under what conditions it was performed. She was in dire need of our help to complete the process or, as frequently was the case, to correct what damage might have been done.

The patient also did not explain why she had attempted the abortion, and we did not ask. This was a decision she made for herself, and the reasons were hers alone. Yet this much was clear: The woman had put herself at total risk, and literally did not know whether she would live or die.

This, too, was clear: Her desperate need to terminate a pregnancy was the driving force behind the selection of any method available.

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger” — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.

We did not have ultrasound, CT scans or any of the now accepted radiology techniques. The woman was placed under anesthesia, and as we removed the metal piece we held our breath, because we could not tell whether the hanger had gone through the uterus into the abdominal cavity. Fortunately, in the cases I saw, it had not.

However, not simply coat hangers were used.

Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion — darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.

Another method that I did not encounter, but heard about from colleagues in other hospitals, was a soap solution forced through the cervical canal with a syringe. This could cause almost immediate death if a bubble in the solution entered a blood vessel and was transported to the heart.

The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Waldo L. Fielding was an obstetrician and gynecologist in Boston for 38 years. He is the author of “Pregnancy: The Best State of the Union” (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971).

hat tip to elm


Couple of Links

•May 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Pretty soon I’m going to have to either cull or completely reorganize my blogroll, because everyday it seems I’m exposed to something else that all my wombats should be seeing.  Here are today’s:

A site devoted to the stories and support of UK women suffering from domestic violence

The 4th Carnival against Pornography

Asking the hard questions

•May 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Jezebella has an excellent post up about the problems with being a well-meaning but ultimately privileged honky white woman – someone who wants to both do GOOD and to do better, while at the same time struggling with making sure her own needs for self-care are met.

I am reminded of stories of women in wartime generations. Women who simply could not join the army, but had the sense that supporting the troops was a righteous thing to do (is it rude of me to say: oh, the joyful innocence of believing that there is a “just” war, and knowing with absolute conviction that our side is the right side?). They were women (we are told) who could collect bottle tops for scrap metal, knit socks and blankets for the troops – in other words, practice both self-care and activism by parleying hobbies such as knitting into social activities with the goal of helping someone in need. If a woman was particularly idealistic, and young, she could join as a nurse and be as close to front lines of action as possible, performing heroic and appreciated acts.

Women today do not have those same kinds of options. One might say that we haven’t for years (witness the tragic farce that was the Vietnam war), but even there, there seemed to be a sense that activism at home could change things – sit ins, love ins, campus protests and putting flowers in a soldier’s rifle for the young women. For older women, there still seemed to be a fair way to support the troops (even if not the war itself) with care packages. Either way, there was much less focus on tragedies and indignities perpetrated abroad.

Modern young women do not have those same kinds of options. They are all too aware of genocide, of oppression, of the horrors of this war, and of their own complicity in the consumerist/capitalist behaviors that subsume the rights of others to live without poverty, without US troops bombing the bejezus out of their homes, their government buildings, and their museums. Women today know too much about problems, and too little about how to fix them short of complete institutional change (although this would be MY personal preference). We know that putting yellow ribbon “Support the Troops” stickers on our cars implies that we support the war – and equally we know that putting “support the troops – bring them home” stickers there opens up far more complex dangers than a one-time protest would. It makes cars (and the people in them) constant moving targets.

We know, too, that even well meaning interference (activism) can cause more problems than those the activism is intended to address. To which organization can you donate money if you don’t want it to go through IMF/World Bank, or through Citibanks’ corporate (and often terrorizing) private lenders? If a woman defaults on a microloan you give her through Kiva, will she be harassed and shamed by neighbors? Will she be hunted down by the lenders? If you support sending pads and tampons to poor/rural areas so that girls don’t have to drop out of school for missing a week of classes every month, will you be creating more trash? Furthering Procter & Gamble’s corporate greed? Opening up those girls to retributive punishments by the men in their own community for daring to appear in public while menstruating (when they “should” be sequestered)?

So what do we do? How do we act in ways that are both generous and redistributve AND living up to our need for self-care? How do we navigate our own oppression AND our collusion in the corporate greed that has created and sustained the impoverishment of 90% of the world?

The Dan Chronicles

•April 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Although it is not comprehensive, Subversive Female’s speciation page is what truly makes the Dannisms shine.


Dear persons of questionable interests:

•April 21, 2008 • 2 Comments

Seriously?  My most popular search term is “Nevada brothels and campgrounds”?

Hey, asshole:  If you’re gonna buy the woman, at least spring for four walls to keep her in.  It ain’t summer yet.

The Stupidity that is “Sympathetic” Manliness

•April 21, 2008 • Leave a Comment

There’s a new blog out there by Edward Keenan called “Act Like A Man” (I’m not linking because he doesn’t deserve traffic, frankly). It purports to be about finding new ways of defining manliness that cater more to equality and less to active aggression against women. Whatever.

I’m an old school feminist, and I don’t believe in manliness. Not ever, not at all. Manliness is what we call the bullshit that men want to get away with while prohibiting it to women. Manliness believes in inherent, immutable differences between the humanity of men and the humanity of women – it is the graveyard of biological determinists, asshats, and lazy dudebros.

So you can imagine my response to a male poster telling adult women to “be responsible for their choices and grow up” when a woman suggests that perhaps men need to get the fuck overthemselves already and act like goddamn adults instead of manipulative, lazy babies. He suggests that she simply picked a particularly bad seed.

Well, I’m here to tell you that where “manliness” is to be found, Giant Baby asshattery is endemic. I will not reproduce here the nonsense that “Colt” (seriously? is that meant to refer to the weapon or the adolesent horse?) deigned to submit, but I want to share my reply, because frankly I like it, and I don’t want my dear wombats to be subjected to “Colt” if they (you) suffer any longing to read my response.


You play semantics here by pretending there is a choice. One of the most salient points of this post is that men see themselves as the default for “human” and women as the deviation from that norm, yet even a man who admits that he is persuing an active definition of what it means to be a “man” cites a list of issues that essentially prove that men are not behaving as “humans”.
The default for “human” should be someone who does not rape, someone who maintains themselves (bodily and mentally), someone with a sense of responsibility to meet at least the bare minimum of subsistence needs (food, clothing, shelter)for both her or his self AND the persons in her or his basic family unit, and someone who respects the bodily and mental rights and needs of the other humans with whom she or he come into contact.

Men simply are not meeting these standards – or if they are, are asking to be rewarded for acting like human beings. They want a cookie for being such nice guys. And sadly, Mr. Keenan seems to be one of those “nice guys”. He wants a cookie for recognizing that men are not performing the bare minimum of requirements to qualify as autonomous humans, and is calling this blog an opportunity to define a “better” version of “manhood” (and god forbid you call it what it is – a blog about reminding men how to be humans, as caliope correctly does).

Therefore, women who a)are sexually and/or emotionally attracted to men, b)recognize that despite men’s inability to behave as functional humans, they are still monetarily rewarded for temporarily posing as humans in the workplace to a greater degree than women ACTUALLY behaving as humans ALL THETIME are, and c)who desire to have children and thus want a co-parent who will either provide money, sex, or a societally sanctioned figurehead to retain the legal appearance of a functional “family” are forced to cope with the giant babies of the world. You suggest that caliope grow up – I maintain that in correctly identifying and coping with the giant baby behavior that men consider an acceptable standard (despite the fact that it does not meet the requirements for “human” status) she has chosen the best path available to her. She is, in fact, the functional adult, resigned to the fact that men have chosen the path of the giant baby and are determined to stay the course even when it means making themselves redundant in social, economic, and theoretical life.

The moderation work I have to do for this post will determine whether I develop a new page entitled “Read this first, and don’t reply until you’re SURE that I’m not going to ban the bejesus out of you. Just FYI.

Go Betty GO!!!!!

•April 20, 2008 • Leave a Comment