Doctors who provided abortions before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 know too well the consequences women suffer when abortion is illegal and not accessible.
Dr. Stubblefield fears the consequences of a return to pre-Roe days. "We would go back to the bad old days where women got abortions anyway. Some women could afford to go out of state. Others could not. In the 1940s, 1,000 women a year died of illegal abortions. Maybe we would not go back to that level, but we would undoubtedly have a lot of sick women."
"During the first six months of my residency, almost all abortions, except for those done to save the life or physical health of the mother, were illegal. Each night we would admit to the wards of University Hospital in Little Rock (a fairly small hospital, as metropolitan hospitals go) girls and women with raging fevers, extraordinary uterine and pelvic infections, enormous blood loss, and a multitude of serious injuries of the pelvic and intra-abdominal organs as a result of illegal and self-induced abortions."
"Many of the doctors of conscience who have provided abortions through the years were moved to do so by the horrors of botched illegal abortions. I saw those ill and sometimes dying women in my medical training too. I was moved by their plight. But that was not what drove me to risk my career and sometimes my life. I was moved by the certain knowledge that women's lives could be ruined when they could not abort a pregnancy."
"I think the image that I retain was that of a 31-year-old Mexican-American woman who died of endotoxic shock with her husband and four or five children around," he says. "And that scene is in my mind and has been in my mind coming back all the time. I see the bed, I see the kids crying and I see the husband crying."
As the head of a hospital committee on abortion and sterilization in the 1960s, Dr. Mildred Hanson coached women through an elaborate system to prove that an unwanted pregnancy threatened their life or mental health. But one day she received a frantic call from a young woman seeking her help, and without a name or number all she could do was familiarize her with the process and ask her to call back. She never called back. "I later learned that she committed suicide by jumping out of a 17th-story window. To this day, I feel responsible for her death."
These and other practitioners speak in their own voices on the video "Voices of Choice" created by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. Read excerpts and related materials and order the video or DVD at www.voicesofchoice.org