Welcome Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, Hosted by Dawn Johnsen.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling

Dawn Johnsen, Host:

I would eagerly read anything written by Linda Greenhouse or Reva Siegel on the subject of abortion (or just about any topic). This dynamic duo brings to Before Roe v. Wade decades of careful study and scholarship.

Greenhouse is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who set the industry standard for Supreme Court coverage in thirty years with the New York Times (as well as author of Becoming Justice Blackmun, about Roe’s author). Siegel, a Yale Law professor, is a – to my mind, the – leading legal academic writing on abortion, from her 1992 Stanford article, Reasoning from the Body, to recent work including the shift from fetal-protective to woman-protective arguments against legal abortion.

As I sat down to read, my expectations for Before Roe v. Wade were high.

And yet I also knew, after years of my own reading and writing about reproductive rights, I would not be easily surprised or impressed. More generally, abortion is a difficult topic for a successful book: so many potential readers feel they know enough about the topic, that their opinions are sufficiently well informed by both public discourse and personal experiences (estimates are that one in three women will have an abortion). Journalists, academics, and even advocates can experience “abortion fatigue” – not for lack of appreciation of the issue’s importance, but because after so many years of prominence, there seems little new to be said about it. And then there is the widespread discomfort with an issue most would prefer to keep out of view, until they or someone close experiences an unintended pregnancy, or during a wanted pregnancy develops a health complication or discovers a severe fetal anomaly.

I could not put Before Roe v. Wade down. Even for those already steeped in the issue, this book is guaranteed to surprise, impress, and inform. For those with only vague notions of Roe’s origins, it provides an outstanding introduction. For those with no particular interest in abortion, it offers a fascinating study of social movements and legal and political change. I already have given several copies as gifts (anyone looking for a last-minute holiday gift idea?).

This carefully researched and annotated collection of original source material from the years before Roe (the 1960s and early 1970s) devotes equal space to documents supportive of each side. Some were retrieved from easily accessible public spaces, others from digging in library collections, and still others from people’s private files. A few examples:

  • Two-page instruction sheet outlining “Rush Procedure for Going to Japan” to obtain an abortion.
  • 1971 Handbook on Abortion by Jack and Barbara Wilke, highly influential in making the case against legalization (this 13-page excerpt is the book’s longest).
  • Statement by Dr. Jane Hodgson, who was sentenced to prison for performing a 1970 abortion for a woman with German measles.
  • 1970 article by Dr. Robert Knapp, found in Justice Blackmun’s files, arguing that to perform an abortion is to commit murder.
  • Statement of the Clergy Consultative Service, a group of ministers and rabbis who came together in 1967 to assist more than 100,000 women a year in obtaining abortions.
  • A 1970 analysis of the constitutional question published in the New York Times by then-reporter Linda Greenhouse.
  • Many documents that chronicle legislative efforts at reform, repeal and counter-repeal (especially New York), as well as pre-Roe litigation efforts (especially Connecticut).

Worthy of special note are many excerpts from statements by a variety of religions. Some concern the Catholic Church’s prominent pre-Roe role. Others remind of the division of religious views. A 1972 statement of my own church, the United Methodist Church, discusses “the tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion,” and concludes “we support removal of abortion from the criminal code.”

The book concludes with excerpts from briefs filed in Roe, as well as the statement read by Justice Blackmun from the bench in announcing the decision.

The format of the book invites readers to draw their own conclusions. One set of questions particularly enriched concerns common critiques of Roe itself. That its focus on abortion as a medical procedure, properly for physicians rather than the government, largely and remarkably leaves out of the picture women and fetuses. Before Roe v. Wade suggests this is not because the Court lacked those perspectives: the Court had before it arguments about women’s equality and autonomy needs, as well as photographs and descriptions of fetuses at various developmental stages.

Or that by seeking to resolve the issue through the courts, Roe provoked a backlash that in the long run may have both undermined the Court’s legitimacy and made access to abortion less secure. The documents, and the authors, suggest an alternative narrative: the backlash began earlier, with Catholic Church-led opposition to pre-Roe legislative reform, and was fueled by Republican Party efforts to shift its position in order to recruit Catholics and others. Readers may be surprised to learn that pre-Roe, Republicans were more supportive than Democrats of reforming or repealing restrictive abortion laws.

A theme not as surprising is the pervasive inequality in the enforcement of abortion bans (which corresponded with wealth and privilege), and resulting, pervasive inequalities in who suffered harm to health and life. For example, “Between 1951 and 1962, over 92 % of women who received hospital abortions in New York City were white, while over three-quarters of those who died from illegal abortions in the city were women of color.”

One document is particularly power in highlighting the disparity: a 1970 pamphlet distributed to Yale students promised the university would find access to safe, legal abortion, despite the state’s criminal ban. It reminded students of their special privilege: “Opportunity to receive an abortion in this country discriminates against the poor, the ignorant, and the disadvantaged. . . . You are privileged in that you have access to information that some would and many have given their lives for . . . .” The pamphlet concluded with the warning, all in caps: “DON’T TAKE A CHANCE WITH AN ILLEGAL ABORTIONIST. IT COULD MEAN YOUR LIFE.”

114 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel, Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling”

dakine01 December 15th, 2010 at 11:31 am

Good afternoon Reva, Linda, and Dawn and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Reva and Linda, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a comment/question

I grew up in small town Kentucky and I know there were abortions performed by some of the local doctors, especially on the girls from the “good” families. Did you find much instance of people who would later admit this, from either the doctors or the girls themselves?

BevW December 15th, 2010 at 11:31 am

Linda, Reva, Dawn, Welcome to the Lake.

Dawn, Thank you for Hosting this Book Salon.

egregious December 15th, 2010 at 11:31 am

Welcome to Firedoglake – an honor to have you here!

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:31 am

hello, it is a pleasure to be here

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:32 am

This is a terrific book. First question, I learned so much and wonder Reva and Linda what you learned or find striking in writing the book.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:33 am

Related to that, did reading all of these amazing primary sources affect your own thinking about Roe, or more generally how the Court has handled the reproductive rights?

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 11:34 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 5

Hi, Dawn –

Gregg Levine December 15th, 2010 at 11:34 am

Linda, Reva, Dawn–what an honor to have you all here today–thank you for taking time to chat with us.

BevW December 15th, 2010 at 11:35 am

Linda and Reva are answering the first questions – bev

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 11:35 am

During the days before Roe v. Wade, abortion was in fact very common, among all classes of women — as many as one million illegal abortions a year. The difference was that women with money and connections could, with effort , obtain safe abortions while poor women were relegated to the dangers of the back alleys. But unintended pregnancy wass and is a common issue — even today, half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended and half of those end in abortion.

Jane Hamsher December 15th, 2010 at 11:36 am

Welcome back Linda,and thanks so much Dawn and Reva for being here. Reva I think we did Warren Olney’s show together a couple years ago.

Thank you so much for writing this book. How has the response been?

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 11:37 am

I was fascinated to see how much the conversation about abortion and the law changed over the decade before Roe — to see exchange about abortion at a time when there is no clear feminist voice in the debate or when more Americans afiliated with the Republican Party than Democratic Party support decriminalization

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 11:38 am

Ah, and a warm welcome to host Dawn and esteemed guests Linda and Reva. Honored to have all of you here and it is a fantastic book.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:38 am
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 11

I can speak for myself: in recent weeks I’ve discussed the book at several law schools, in connection with talks there, and encountered students active in reproductive rights student orgs who had read it and said they were surprised how little they actually knew about the pre-Roe period, and were very glad to have the book

dakine01 December 15th, 2010 at 11:39 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 6

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lowe4r right hand of each comment. Pressing “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier to follow the “conversation”

Note: Some browsers don’t like the Reply if it is clicked before the page completes loading after the page has been refreshed

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:41 am
In response to Reva Siegel @ 12

Linda and Reva found some very interesting sources that may help explain why the shift from the pre-Roe time when more Republicans supported legal abortion than Democrats: from Pres. Nixon, Pat Buchanan, Kevin Phillips. Would be interesting to have them say more about those sources.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 11:42 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 5

What was most striking to me was that, even though I lived through the period and did some writing about it, there were so many developments that I either hadn’t perceived at all, or hadn’t perceived in their proper context, or mis-remembered later. For example, the fact that there were more Republicans than Democrats who supported decriminalizing abortion was a surprise. The fact that the abortion-rights movement was not initially a feminist movement — but rather, a movement of mostly male doctors and lawyers — was a surprise. We see the pre-Roe period today through the lens of Roe, but it’s often a distorting lens.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:43 am
In response to Reva Siegel @ 12

I also thought the material you included about the early role of environmental/population control groups was fascinating, because that no longer is part of the discourse.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:47 am

You also devote much space to religious sources — from religiously affiliated organizations and individuals. What did you find notable about the role of religion pre-Roe?

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 11:47 am

Worthy of special note are many excerpts from statements by a variety of religions. Some concern the Catholic Church’s prominent pre-Roe role. Others remind of the division of religious views. A 1972 statement of my own church, the United Methodist Church, discusses “the tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion,” and concludes “we support removal of abortion from the criminal code.”

Before science found out that babies have heart beats independent of the Mother didn’t most religions Catholics included think Abortion as long as the baby was at least partly in the mother ok?
Was any of the current religions old opinions on abortion noted? Was notice taken that science made them change their minds recently? Was it noted that the churches still have issues with science?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 11:48 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 5

This is in answer to Dawn’s #6. Our journey through the primary sources raises the question of what the justices of the Supreme Court actually knew about the broader, non-legal context in which they were trying to decide the abortion issue. Roe v. Wade was pending at the court for more than two years, two of the more tumultuous years in the unfolding abortion story — during which the Nixon reelection campaign had identified abortion as a new “wedge” issue and during which the politics around abortion was becoming quite heated. What did justices know of any of this, and how did their knowledge, if any, figure in the decision — it’s a bit of a puzzle.

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 11:49 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 16

We were looking at the debates over repealing the abortion ban in New York in 1970, and then at efforts to repeal the repeal statute that followed in 1972. President Nixon intervened in New York debates to support those who wanted to keep abortion criminal — and we were curious about why President Nixon was interested. We noticed that 1972 was the year of a presidential campaign. As we began to read we discovered more. Papers in the Nixon library, and in the record of the Watergate hearings show Patrick Buchanan urging President Nixon to take positions on abortion in order to win Catholic voters, who historically had voted with the Democratic party. It is a fascinating window on the dynamics of the abortion debate — especially interesting as all this was happening *before* the Supreme Court was involved.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 11:50 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 18

Yes, on the environmental/population arguments for abortion rights — it really is striking how odd some of those arguments strike our ears today — people just don’t talk that way and probably don’t think that way — the US has millions more people today than it did in the edarly 1970′s, obviously, yet we really don’t hear anyone warning about “overpopulation.” So clearly something else was going on back then — I think it wasn’t so much too many people as too many of the “wrong kind” of people — not a pretty story.

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 11:51 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 18

Heh, yes. I remember actually writing some kind of thesis in an American Literature class as a junior in high school in 1973 discussing Roe (just announced at the time), the increasing use of the pill and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Population control actually was apparently a discussion point back then.

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 11:52 am

Statement by Dr. Jane Hodgson, who was sentenced to prison for performing a 1970 abortion for a woman with German measles.

the mother is infected within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the child may be born with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which entails a range of serious incurable illnesses. Spontaneous abortion occurs in up to 20% of cases.[1]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubella

Ok explain why the health of the mother and or the baby was ever not a reason to get an aborion. Who pushed that Churches and or Men who really hate women just what *cough* Logic did they use to explain this?

emptywheel December 15th, 2010 at 11:52 am

Really fascinating discussion so far and thanks to you all for joining us at FDL.

I’ve always been curious why there wasn’t more of a push for reproductive rights based on equality arguments. Is that because–as Linda points out–the push for legalization came largely from male doctors at first?

emptywheel December 15th, 2010 at 11:53 am
In response to Reva Siegel @ 22

Could you compare that to debates on gay rights now, particularly given the way the Prop 8 case packages a great deal of scientific analysis for the appellate courts?

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:54 am
In response to dakine01 @ 1

I’m curious about your view on this question from the very first participant. I know you include a very interesting account of Dr. Jane Hodgson’s conviction for performing an “illegal” abortion. I’ve read some other accounts of doctors who were willing to risk jail and losing their medical license to help women. Did you find much in the way of documentation or writings by such doctors?

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 11:54 am
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 19

One thing that was quite interesting. Sources in the book show that in the period before Roe — that is in the 1960s and early 1970s — Catholics opposed the decriminalization of abortion, but other religious denominations took quite different views. Notably conservative Protestant evangelical groups — such as the Southern Baptist Convention — did not categorically oppose abortion. SBC certainly did not advocate abortion rights – but took a middle of the road position, saying that abortion should be available sometimes, in certain difficult life situations. THe SBC and other groups were not politically engaged in the question and would not be for quite some time after Roe.

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 11:56 am

What a wonderful book!

Linda and Reva, you did a very good job of selecting sources, and they really made the pre-Roe world much more vivid than it would have been had you (or other writers) merely summarized them or offered quotes from them. By using whole documents (or large sections thereof), and setting the scene for each, the speakers and their world emerged quite powerfully from your pages.

My two favorite parts were “The Lesser of Two Evils” by Sherri Chessen Finkbine (the story of her decision to abort a pregnancy twisted by Thalidomide, her up-and-down travails in actually getting the abortion, and the fallout of that choice) and the Yale Student pamphlet to which Dawn referred.

I was reminded of a conversation I had years ago shortly before my marriage, when an older friend of mine shared with me his own “times have changed” story. On the eve of *his* wedding (pre-Griswold), the pill had just come out, and in order for his wife to have the prescription for it filled, he had to accompany her to the pharmacy and give his consent.

A different world.

CTuttle December 15th, 2010 at 11:57 am

…the fact that there were more Republicans than Democrats who supported decriminalizing abortion was a surprise.

I find that extremely interesting! Given the current make-up of the Supreme Court and the rabid desire of the Repugs today to overturn Roe… Is there any chance it could be overturned?

Btw, Mahalo to Linda, Reva and Dawn for being here today…! 8-)

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 11:58 am

That could be part of the “population control” arguments, the ugly side had always been there and important to uncover. But I do agree with what I think bmaz is suggesting, that population control just prior to Roe was a strong environmental concern in a way it is not today. I was just a little younger than jr high at the time and do recall young people concerned w/ population control, across the board, for what I think of as legit environmental reasons. But today, perhaps b/c of the ugly side, it is no longer considered a legit rationale at all — or even part of the public debate,

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 11:58 am

Actually, abortion for reasons of maternal and fetal health conditions was one of the first basis for reform arguments — abortion for these reasons had widespread public support (and still does), and the group of elite lawyers who drew up reform proposals around 1960 included these as appropriate reasons for abortion. The German measles epidemic around that time, which led to Dr. Hodgson’s decision to test the Minnesota law by performing an illegal abortion on a willing patient, got a lot of public attention. So did the so-called Thalidomide babies, babies born without arms or legs to women who had taken this drug, which was a tranquilizer/sleeping pill not approved by the FDA but quite popular in Europe. In the book, we have a first-person narrative by a woman, Sherri Chessen Finkbine, who in 1962 had to go to Sweden in order to get an abortion after she unknowingly took Thalidomide. Her saga made the cover of Life Magazine and sparked a lot of conversations about the sensibility of the criminal statutes.

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 11:59 am
In response to CTuttle @ 31

Bush’s Granddad supported abortion probably to keep immigrant populations down.

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 12:00 pm
In response to bmaz @ 24

Today the “population control” argument gets used by the anti-choicers: “Look at communist China and their ‘one-child’ laws to control their population. Clearly, birth control and abortion are part of the communist world, and we certainly don’t want that . . .”

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:00 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 26

The first arguments for decriminalization werent even formally constitutional — but there were social justice elements that sounded in equality – such as the claim that the law should be the same for rich and poor women. As the feminist movement joined the debate, women began to make a variety of arguments for decriminalization or “repeal” as it was then called, and then appealed to courts for abortion rights. But they were making these arguments at a time when there was almost no constitutional protection against sex discrimination- – only one small decision by the Court in 1971, whose meaning and scope was not very clear. Even so, women did make appeal to equality in a variety of ways. One judge in connecticut responded to their claims. In a case called Abele v. Markle the judge argues for striking down Connecticut’s 19th century ban invoking many sex equality values. Women made the arguments to other judges but they tended not to hear — and to recognize abortion rights in the language of privacy and liberty.

Here is something on the question: http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/Faculty/Siegel_RoesRoots.pdf

emptywheel December 15th, 2010 at 12:01 pm
In response to Peterr @ 30

I found it rather interesting that just a few years before George Bush (allegedly) paid for his girlfriend’s abortion, Yale was distributing that pamphlet to students like Bush.

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:01 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 27

Could you restate your question?

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Actually, abortion for reasons of maternal and fetal health conditions was one of the first basis for reform arguments

Agreed! I was wondering just What were the counter arguments made at the time?

emptywheel December 15th, 2010 at 12:02 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 32

Or perhaps because of the “miracles” of industrial agriculture and the green revolution?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:02 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 28

Dr. Hodgson, a real heroine of the abortion-rights movement, was one of the few doctors who were willing to risk everything by going public when she didn’t have to. Another doctor, Milan Vuitch, in Washington DC, was widely known for performing safe illegal abortions — he did not seek publicity but was arrested and prosecuted. He challenged the constitutionality of the D.C. abortion law in a case that reached the Supreme Court before Roe and led to an important opinion — not on the constitutionality of abortion per se, but the court interpreted the law flexibly to permit abortions for health and not only for life-saving reasons.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:03 pm
In response to Peterr @ 30

Along those lines, an older friend recently told me that when she married in the 60′s her doctor refused to help her with contraception because he said his physical examination revealed she had no physical impediments to having many, many babies.

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 12:04 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 37

Link I have never heard that one before. Although given all the GOPers with girls on the side but no kids I have suspected that abortion is quite popular in the GOP. Women if anything have a motivation to have a kid from a rich guy but there have been no GOP baby scandals in how long?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:05 pm
In response to Peterr @ 35

Well, of course any notion of reproductive “choice,” if it is to mean anything, must mean that women are free to become mothers if that’s what they want. There is an unfortunate history in this country of compulsory sterilization of women on welfare who had already had several children, as a condition of keeping their benefits. This is an ugly history that made many women of color deeply skeptical of the abortion rights movement.

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 12:06 pm
In response to Reva Siegel @ 36

Fascinating. Do you see a parallel in this regard – i.e. “repeal” versus Constitutional level bases of prohibited discrimination under equal protection, due process etc. – with the current debate on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT)? Quite frankly, as much as repeal is certainly desired and appropriate, the stark refusal of the Executive Branch to even discuss, much less frame, the issue as one of Constitutional proportion strikes me as rather disturbing. From your account it seems that was the case with abortion pre-Roe as well.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:08 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 32

Dawn, I think the eugenics aspect of the population movement did disappear, as the movement morphed into the notion of responsible parenthood — bringing into the world the number of children one was willing and able to support. This was part of the idea of divorcing sex from reproduction — so much in tension with Catholic doctrine.

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:08 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 31

Yes Roe can be overturned — though more likely now to be narrowed. The divide on the Court is close enough, however, that it is certainly possible that the decision be overturned in the future.

Slow erosion presents its own problems regardless. It is poor women and young women who are most harmed by dilution of legal protections. Also erosion of the decision means that the law changes without public awareness/engagement.

emptywheel December 15th, 2010 at 12:09 pm
In response to Reva Siegel @ 38

I can try. It seems like we’re in the reverse position today w/gay rights, insofar as it’s hard to get beyond the craven political reasons why certain parties are opposing gay rights (to drive up evangelical turnout, for example) and actually look at the rational reasons and societal benefits to gay marriage.

The genius of the Prop 8 plaintiff’s case (and Vaughn Walker’s decision to have a full trial) is that it reinserts all those rational reasons (which seem to have been the driving force for Roe?) into the debate.

So are we in the reverse position of where we were w/Roe?

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 12:10 pm
In response to Reva Siegel @ 36

In an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the NY Times a year and a half ago, she raised the issue of equality for rich and poor women:

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Q: When you say that reproductive rights need to be straightened out, what do you mean?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.

Linda and Reva, by any chance has Justice Ginsburg seen your book?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

The counter-argument was from those who simply believed that abortion at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason is murder — people holding that belief at that time were almost exclusively Catholic — the Protestant denominations, including the Evangelicals , did not hold that categorical view.

emptywheel December 15th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

It was published in a number of the Bush books, certainly in Family of Secrets. The woman in question was someone he was hanging out with in Houston in the years after he graduated.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:12 pm

I had the great privilege of meeting and working with Dr. Hodgson on several occasions, later in her life, and she was extraordinarily kind and an inspiration to me, as a young lawyer. Not to get us too far off the pre-Roe period subject of this book, throughout her life, she remained committed to securing Roe in the courts, serving again as a plaintiff in litigation, and also in securing the actual availability of services which is a major problem today. We actually spoke on a panel together years ago at an event in South Dakota, where only one clinic now remains in the entire state.

person1597 December 15th, 2010 at 12:15 pm

What would you say to the person who conjured up the marketing phrase “Pro-Life”?

dakine01 December 15th, 2010 at 12:17 pm
In response to Reva Siegel @ 47

It sure does seem like the folks who oppose Roe would lose out on a tremendous fund raising point if Roe were completely overturned. It seems as if they would want to keep the “boogey man” aspect around as a talking point rather than have it go away through a Constitutional amendment or such

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Have you thought about which of the documents in your book are of greatest relevance to the issues currently being debated about abortion (in the legislatures, courts, law schools)? I think the entire book clearly is deeply relevant. But if you had to choose and point out particular sources, or points you make in relation, to those sources, any suggestions for what they would be?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:18 pm
In response to person1597 @ 53

Pro-life is a brilliant slogan. In the book, we have an internal memo from the leader of an abortion-rights organization (Jimmye Kimmey of the Association for the Study of Abortion) debating how to counter it, and coming up with “right to choose”. She rejected “right of conscience” on the ground that while conscience is internal to the person, “choice” implies action, and that’s what was at stake.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:19 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 54

Yes, you’re right — Professor Sanford Levinson has said that for the Republicans, “Roe is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:21 pm
In response to bmaz @ 45

One of the interesting features of the debate before Roe is to see how an argument that is seen as “policy” becomes one about the Constitution. It doesnt happen all at once or straight away — but as the justice elements of the claim come to the foreground, the Constitution begins to enter the picture.
In a variety of ways, the privacy argument was more traditional and more easily understood by the judges and so is the first framework in which to talk about the issues at stake. But the equality themes kept growing and in fact entered the decisions of the Court over time. First in the 1980s in Thornburgh, then in 1992 with Casey. Equal protection was at the center of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Carhart in 2007, as well–today the right is understood as both a liberty and an equality right.

This suggests that political debate does ultimately shape law – on both sides of the question (as the Carhart example ilustrates…)

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 12:25 pm

To Linda and/or Reva: You feature prominently (a whole chapter!) the Connecticut strategy for attacking the issue. Can you discuss the significance of Abele I and II, especially considering the seminal Griswold line of authority emanating out of Connecticut, to the litigation and decision in Roe?

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:25 pm
In response to Peterr @ 49

The book, as I mentioned in my intro, powerfully conveys the economic inequalities in who could obtain a safe, legal abortion pre-Roe. As J. Ginsburg’s quote here points out, those gross inequalities in effects remain today, in terms of the effects of restrictions the Court has upheld and the decreasing availability of abortion providers. I’m wondering about your impression reading the pre-Roe sources: was economic inequality a powerful message, or did it depend on the audience (e.g., the Court, legislators)? How about among those who were antiabortion, or in te middle?

CTuttle December 15th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

…“Roe is the gift that keeps on giving.”…

Made all the more ironic with Roe’s recanting of her role, eh…?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:26 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 31

CTuttle – are you related to the wonderful federal judge, Elbert Tuttle? I know he had roots in Hawaii. (my brother in law was his law clerk.)

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:28 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 55

As I was suggesting above, looking at the period before Roe shows us something about how conflict in the area has grown — in a period before the Court was even involved. We can see how the political parties take stances on abortion with attention to the voters they can win — (there are several documents in the book that show strategists reasoning in this way) (the 1972 presidential election happened on the eve of the Roe decision).
The materials in the book also show how the abortion debate intersected wtih the debates over ratification of the equal rights amendment (the ERA was reported out of Congress and sent to the states the year before Roe as well). They illustrate how the debate over abortion was about women’s roles as well as the unborn.

The materials in the book also do a good job of illustrating how there is not one but many religious positions on abortion, and how they have evolved over time.

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

The desire behind the argument given the Church’s previous position for centuries seems rooted in control of women and hate of women. That is something I would like to explore more personally.

CTuttle December 15th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Not that I know of…? ;-)

There are quite a few Tuttles running around…!

Christy Hardin Smith December 15th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Dawn — so lovely to see you hosting. Linda and Reva, the book is a fantastic discussion of some very difficult issues. Thanks so much for delving into so much of this for all of us.

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 12:30 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 51

Interesting I wasn’t doubting you EW I just figured you could give me the best source quick rather than a google search with thousands of hits to sort through:)

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 12:31 pm
In response to Reva Siegel @ 58

Thank you. Yes, it is indeed a fascinating dynamic. It is not one I understood at the time leading up to Roe, as it was long before I set foot in any number of eventual Con law classes; but I sure see it clearly in the current DADT, DOMA and other sexual preference centered issues and litigations. Not sure how much you have seen of how Vaughn Walker conducted and, ultimately, decided Perry v. Schwarzenegger in NDCA, but it is a true thing of beauty and work of art. I can see so many parallels to the incredible history and foundation leading up to Roe in your book.

person1597 December 15th, 2010 at 12:31 pm

The “pro-choice” label trumped the existing “anti-abortion” moniker, so that would be the context in which pro-life was promoted.

Even now, “pro-choice” continues to convey “reason”. Plus, it gains in the currency of usage, paired with pro-life
in the headline debate.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:31 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 60

The economic equality argument was a powerful one among the public health doctors were really the first to call for reform, in the late 1950′s. In the book, we have an article by Dr. Mary Calderone calling on her fellow public-health physicians to recognize illegal abortion as a public health crisis, in part for its impact on poor women vs. those better off and better connected. The legal elites were also motivated in part by this argument — and in those days, there was a plausible argument that inequality of rich and poor, in the context of public policy, violated the equal protection guarantee of the 14th amendment. That line of argument was ruled out of the Constitution by the increasingly conservative Supreme Court later in the 1970′s.

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 12:32 pm
In response to person1597 @ 53

I would say to a Catholic read Swift’s ” A Modest Proposal “

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:32 pm

The comments about how some physicians were unwilling to prescribe contraception in the 60s has me wondering about what you found regarding the the connection, in the decade before Roe, between opposition to contraception/pregnancy prevention and opposition to abortion?

ThingsComeUndone December 15th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Was ” A Modest Proposal ” included in the Supreme Court’s review of the facts on this case?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I don’t know about this particular allegation, but if you want to read a really interesting book about the whole Bush family, it’s The Family by Kitty Kelley (author of the recently published Oprah biography.)

spurious December 15th, 2010 at 12:34 pm
In response to Peterr @ 49

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.

Amen.

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 12:37 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 60

I’m an ELCA pastor* taking a break from sermon writing right now, and economic inequality is much on my mind. The economic inequality stuff came through loud and clear for me, but because of what I’ve been reading and writing myself, it’s hard for me to know how to answer your question. I *think* it would come through powerfully for anyone, but I’m not sure.

Take, for instance, Sherri Finkbein’s story. She clearly lays out that she was in a relative position of privilege. Or look at the “how to go to Japan” piece — you have to have money, freedom to travel, time, and other things not available to the poor and powerless.

____

*ELCA – the more openminded of the various Lutheran bodies, which now ordains openly gay and lesbian clergy

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

the Connecticut decisions are important because they actually helped shape Roe. The connecticut litigation featured women making a lengthy public record of the ways that criminal abortion statutes harmed women. And this was a public record that helped make these harms palpable — at a time when abortion was in the closet, and when the judiciary and legal academy was nearly all male. The Connecticut litigation led to an opinion that discuss criminal abortion statutes as harming women – and not only doctors.

Another way the Connecticut litigation influenced Roe was the opinion of Judge Jon Newman in Abele identifying viability as a way to coordinate concern for women’s freedom and the state’s interst in protecting potential life. the Newman opinion was directly influential in shaping the Justice’s views in Roe.

Viewed from another perspective, however, the Connecticut story is instructive because it shows much that is obscured in Roe. For example, while Roe is written as an opinion about doctors and medical authority, the Abele case featured women speaking to the legal system about their own life experiences with abortion. That story comes thorugh in the Abele opinions– as does women’s argument that criminalization of abortion denied women equal citizenship.

Jeff Kaye December 15th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

What a stupendous job on this book! Thank you Reva Ziegel and Linda Geenhouse for contextualizing the abortion debate and bringing history alive. Thanks to Dawn Johnsen, as well for the thoughtful introduction. As I’m at work my contribution to this discussion is limited, but I wanted to express my gratitude to FDL and the individuals above — and the great comments by readers here — for this civilized and high-level treatment.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Your book makes clear that the Justices in Roe had before them arguments, descriptions and photographs that focused on fetus, in ways not at all reflected in the opinions of even the dissenting Justices. Do you have any judgment about why?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:39 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 72

The Pill came into use in 1960, and during the years before Roe, the use of reliable birth control was spreading and the Catholic Church was facing a bit of an internal crisis in deciding how to respond. Many Church leaders in the US and Britain believed the Pope would be ready to accept contraception within Catholic doctrine. But in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Pope rejected the recommendation of a special commission he had set up, and accepted the minority report, which was to condemn all use of “artificial” birth control. Church leaders in the US realized that the Church had pretty much lost the faithful on this one. It is possible that the increasingly aggressive Catholic advocacy against abortion, which started in this period, was a way of holding the line on the question of the relationship between sex and reproduction.

Cujo359 December 15th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I think that you have to have been born before the late 1960s to have much of an idea. I remember seeing fictional TV shows about illegal abortions (cop shows, mostly), which were often tragic, because they tended to end in death or injury. Nowadays, if there’s drama it’s about the decision to abort, not the potential consequences.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:41 pm
In response to Peterr @ 76

Absolutely — middle class women in California could go to Japan, while poor women would cross the border to Tiajuana — much cheaper and much more dangerous.

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:44 pm
In response to bmaz @ 68

There are rich parellels here. Our book shows how the women’s movement worked to educate the public and the bench about how criminal abortion laws harmed women, and how those acts of testifying (inside and outside of court) ultimately shaped law. The same is true of the road to Perry.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I find it interesting that even today some leading opponents of legal abortion (organizations and individuals) — putting aside the Catholic Church — will not support improved contraception/pregnancy prevention; they try to argue it is a separate issue, so wondered if that might still be related to the Catholic Church’s central involvement pre-Roe, which you so powerfully document in your book.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:47 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 79

Two aspects of the Roe opinion have always struck me — on the one hand, the majority, as you’ve said, writes aobout doctors and says almost nothing about women. By the same token, the two justices who were in dissent, Byron White and William Rehnquist, write about courts and not about fetuses — that is, their concern with the opinion was that they thought it was an instance of judicial activism as a matter of judicial craftsmanship, not because they were “pro-life” in today’s framework. (I have no idea what their personal views were on abortion, but I’d be willing to guess they didn’t have strong views one way or another.) The state of Texsas and the right-to-life “friends of the court” that came into the case did include in their briefs photographs of fetal development and made vigorous arguments for fetal personhood, but these arguments were barely acknowledged.

spurious December 15th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. Widely read on college campuses, this book warned of mass starvation due to overpopulation, and advocated immediate action to limit population growth.

CTuttle December 15th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

It is fascinating to see the current Pope coming out for condom use to protect life by preventing the spread of HIV…!

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

In George Weigel’s hagiographic biography of Pope John Paul II, he said that when JP II was a bishop in Poland, he was named to the commission but could not take part directly because of the Polish authorities. He did, however, convene his own commission in Krakow, and (per Weigel) Humanae Vitae would have been much stronger had it followed the logic put forward from Poland.

Thus, when JP II was elected pope, he was (obviously) in a position to try to strengthen what was seen as a weak document — and through his appointments to the hierarchy throughout his papacy, he ensured that this stronger approach would continue after his death.

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:50 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 84

I dont know whether the linkage of abortion and contraception reflects the Church’s role, or simply the spread of the belief that extra marital – and nonprocretive — sex is suspect.

Often debates about abortion proceed as if all they concern is the question of when life begins. But history shows how much views about abortion also concern views about sex and family roles. It isnt either or. Often these concerns are all entangled.

BobTinKY December 15th, 2010 at 12:50 pm
In response to Reva Siegel @ 77

Not sure if Griswold is one of the cases you are referring to but I always was most persuaded by Justice Goldberg’s concurrence in that case. It would been nice if he had gotten 5 instead of 3 on that opinion.

I am looking forward to reading the book.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

A basic question: What did you learn that might be responsive to those who argue: politics was taking care of the problem, reform/repeal was on the move, so women might have been better off without Roe and the backlash that resulted?

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:51 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 84

Yes, it just seems a matter of logic that people who want to make abortion “rare,” as President Clinton said, (“Safe, legal, and rare”) would do their best to make contraceptives available. So why the disconnect? I would guess that it’s not primarily an argument from religious doctrine, but squeamishness about public policies that seem to encourage or even acknowledge sexual activity, particularly among teens. There was a little chart in USA Today this morning listing the states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy, and they were all “red” states where I’d bet that sex education does not take place in the schools and frank conversation on this subject is discouraged.

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 12:53 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 84

In a very odd twist, a fair number of evangelical fundamentalists are moving much closer to (or even past!) the Roman Catholic position on birth control. See the “Quiverfull” movement, for example, where it’s almost as if they’re proclaiming salvation through childbirth and barren women are seen as abandoned by God.

The odd part of this is that on so many other issues, the evangelicals and Roman Catholics are at opposite extremes — authority in the church and the death penalty, just to name two.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:53 pm
In response to spurious @ 86

Yes, Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb,” which sold millions, was quite significant culturally. In addition to warning about overpopulation and starvation, he also celebrated sex for its own sake, within the context of divorcing sex and reproduction — very much in the new spirit of the times.

dakine01 December 15th, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I’d wager it is also the patriarchy in operation and trying to control women

BevW December 15th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

Linda, Reva, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Roe v. Wade.

Dawn, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Book

Linda’s website
Reva’s website
Dawn’s website

Thanks all,
Have a great week and Happy Holidays!

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I just saw on Youtube yesterday an interesting short video made by some students in the Boston public schools, demanding more sexuality education in the schools, and revealing some frightening ignorance among young people about the basics. So a need for more education in the blue states as well.

Linda Greenhouse December 15th, 2010 at 12:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 96

Thanks very much for hosting us, and to everyone who asked these good questions. The time went fast!

Reva Siegel December 15th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

There is much evidence that reform had stalled — not because the public was opposed to further change, but because the opponetns of change had massive resources and were better organized. As soon as the law changed, a number of historians show, the Catholic Church moved to block change, and by 1970, countermobilization was effective. No more reform or repeal laws were enacted despite efforts in a number of states. New York’s law was almost repealed. It is not clear what would have happened if the Court had not acted. It is not clear, as it is often said, that legislative change would have resulted in something like the law we now have. It is a complex question to which we may never know answer. But it may well be that judicial intervention was crucial to change. Perhaps it would have taken another generation , in which women became lawyers, were appointed to positions of authority, for law to change. We could ask the same about Brown….

bgrothus December 15th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I probably live in one of those states. About a year ago, I attended a class on Supreme Court decisions at the charter HS in my neighborhood. The students were discussing a particular case each had selected and each gave a presentation on the case of their choice. Two of the young women chose Roe v: Wade and both felt the case had been decided wrongly because each of them oppose choice.

I was too blistering in my responses on their arguments, and one of them ended up in tears, which I felt bad about. But they did not do adequate research on their topic, regardless. I am going to buy a copy of your book for the school.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Go buy the book! It is terrific!

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 12:58 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 91

Superb question.

Dawn Johnsen December 15th, 2010 at 1:00 pm
In response to bmaz @ 102

And this book answers the question very well!

CTuttle December 15th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Mahalo Nui Loa, Linda, Reva, and Dawn…! What an excellent Book Salon…! I look forward to reading the book!

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 1:01 pm
In response to Dawn Johnsen @ 97

What do you think the odds of a college putting out something like the Yale Student’s pamphlet today would be?

spurious December 15th, 2010 at 1:02 pm
In response to Peterr @ 93

…it’s almost as if they’re proclaiming salvation through childbirth and barren women are seen as abandoned by God.

I think the Mormon belief is that salvation does depend on being born–that is, passing from a previous world to the earth, and from earth to a heavenly world. (Not a Mormon; dredging this up from an encounter with an LDS missionary 30+ years ago.)

Peterr December 15th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Thank you both for you work, and thank you Dawn for hosting this great discussion!

bmaz December 15th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

A huge thank you to Linda, Reva and Dawn for engaging in this wonderful discussion.

This is a fantastic book documenting a critical time, place and part of history; everyone should buy it and read it!

masaccio December 15th, 2010 at 1:11 pm
In response to Peterr @ 105

I don’t think we’ll be seeing it at Notre Dame.

Cujo359 December 15th, 2010 at 1:16 pm
In response to masaccio @ 109

Or BU.

Cujo359 December 15th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Thank you Dawn, Linda, and Revi for an interesting discussion.

bobschacht December 15th, 2010 at 1:26 pm
the mother is infected within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the child may be born with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which entails a range of serious incurable illnesses. Spontaneous abortion occurs in up to 20% of cases.[1]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubella

As a Rubella baby with CRS myself, I have mixed feelings about this argument. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who was determined and persistent in getting for me the medical and educational assistance that I needed. I was fortunate to succeed in education, earning a Ph.D., and medical interventions helped me to live a relatively normal life. But my case has probably been atypical. For some women who contracted Rubella while pregnant, abortion might be a necessary option. Fortunately, vaccinations of women have made CRS exceedingly rare these days.

Bob in AZ

person1597 December 15th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

A dead-on discussion!

sunny0progressive December 15th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Abortion should be illegal. The only exceptions should be for rape, incest, or the life/health of the mother.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post