Friday, August 15, 2008

A Glimpse into the Past

Dr. Mary S. Calderone served as Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Medical Director from 1953 until 1964, when she became the first Executive Director of the newly-launched SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the United States). Calderone played a key role in promoting Planned Parenthood's goals and agenda, through political savvy and public relations skills.

Dr. Calderone was a lead participant in the 1955 Planned Parenthood conference on abortion. She summarized the conference findings in "Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem," published in the July, 1960 issue of The American Journal of Public Health.

I heartily recommend reading the proceedings of the entire conference, but copies are a bit hard to come by. But Dr. Calderone's article alone provides an excellent glimpse into abortion as it was practiced in the United States in the decades before Roe vs. Wade, with added reflections from the experiences of the Scandinavian countries, where abortion laws had been "liberalized" already.

See how much you know about abortion practice in America in the "bad old days".

  • What was the legal status of abortion in America?
    It was completely illegal nationwide.
    It was legal under very limited conditions.
    It was totally illegal in most states, but a few states allowed abortion for the "hard cases" -- rape, incest, the life of the mother, and suspected fetal abnormalities.
    The country was a patchwork. Twelve states banned abortion entirely, most had health exceptions, and two allowed abortions for "mental health" reasons that were interpreted fairly loosely.

  • How many maternal deaths were there a year from complications of abortions in the 1950's?
    5,000 - 10,000
    500 - 1,000
    About 500.
    About 250.

  • The conference found that once a woman concluded that she wanted an abortion, nothing could dissuade her, not laws, not counseling, not the risks of seeking an abortion from a clearly disreputable character. True or false?

  • What were the conference findings on the psychological impact of abortion on women?
    Neither legal nor illegal abortions were traumatic.
    Both legal and illegal abortions were traumatic.
    Legal abortions were palliative, but illegal abortions were traumatic.
    Because only the most determined women sought illegal abortions, those women suffered no trauma, but legal abortions could cause trauma because the women were less sure of their decisions.

  • Which of the following recommendations were made by conference participants? More than one answer is correct.
    "To to search for ways and means whereby the need for abortion is reduced to the absolute minimum and then to help legalize and facilitate abortion for that requisite minimum."
    To make abortion requests reportable to public health officials in order to gather data on why women were requesting abortions and develop strategies to address those issues.
    To encourage "higher standards of sexual conduct."
    To legalize abortion on demand.
    To foster, through sex education, "a greater sense of responsibility toward pregnancy."
    To promote greater access to contraceptives.
  • No comments: