Before 1973, before Roe…

…I went to my ob-gyn for a checkup. He was an serious, older man, a terse man who emitted an aura of old-school, even conservative medical philosophy. A little intimidating, in fact.

This was before Roe became law but during a time when the issue of legal abortion was uppermost in the minds and concerns of young women like me. We shared a secret among us, an unaffirmed, uncredited rumor of an unnamed MD somewhere in Pennsylvania who performed abortions…if we needed one.

One weird night, I found myself in a tenement apartment in the Village, trying to convince a young woman, lying in bed in agony, to allow us — I’d been dragged there by a friend of hers — to call an ambulance. She’d had an illegal abortion. She kept shaking her head, no. After a while, we left. I don’t know what happened to her. I’m pretty sure she hadn’t gone to the secret source, that MD in Pennsylvania.

I don’t know what led me to ask my doctor, “Do you think abortions should be legal?” I wasn’t pregnant and his manner suggested he’d be rigidly opposed. I was entirely wrong.

With a passion he’d never demonstrated in the time I knew him, he burst out. “Yes, without question — because I’ve seen the horrible results of illegal abortions on young women. I treated their infections, they became infertile…I saw them die. I never want that to happen to any woman again.”

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