A Pre-Roe Voice On Why Legal Abortion Is Crucial

Amie Newman

Dr. Warren Fielding, a pre-Roe physician, lets us in on the horrifying reality of abortion care before Roe v. Wade and why legal abortion is crucial to woman's autonomy.

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.

The above excerpt is from an eye-opening essay in today’s New York Times by obstetrician/gynecologist and pre-Roe abortion provider Dr. Warren Fielding.

Dr. Fielding spent five years in New York City municipal hospitals (from 1948-1953) treating women who were admitted suffering from the complications of illegal abortion.

His essay is disturbing to read but not at all surprising. Dr. Fielding’s essay is a polemic — but not on the debate about whether abortion is "good" or "bad." His essay presents explicit facts on what happens to women when abortion is safe and legal versus what women experience when abortion is illegal.

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When Dr. Fielding writes of a patient’s "desperate need to terminate her pregnancy" most women can almost viscerally relate. The desire not only to outlaw abortion from U.S. society but to excise it is a call to eviscerate one of the most basic of women’s dual natures. Many women have the ability to become pregnant and all women have brains and complex emotions. It’s a question of how much of woman we allow women to be.

The only thing that is left out of the essay is precisely what Roe does not address – which is that Roe v. Wade, over three decades in, has not made legal abortion a reality for many women in this country. The promise of legal abortion is not a promise of accessible or affordable abortion for: women who are uninsured, women who are under-insured, marginalized women who do not have ready access to the information they need to make fully informed decisions based on language barriers or immigration status, and young women.

But Dr. Fielding provides us with the cold data that allows us to understand and accept not only that abortion exists – as he writes, "They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days" – but that we must afford women safety and security, under law.

For more on this, check out Gloria Feldt’s excellent piece on why this issue is so important in this election season.

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