The Roe Vs Wade Debacle And My Decades Dealing With Abortion

Health Tips / The Roe Vs Wade Debacle And My Decades Dealing With Abortion
Roe Vs Wade

The opinions on abortion are mine and not necessarily those of the staff at WholeHealth Chicago. For Health Tip readers who have commented that I should not voice political opinions and stick to my work as a doctor, I suggest you glance at any of the websites aimed at physicians themselves. Fully one third of the articles are politically themed.

Concerning this Supreme Court leak planning to overturn the fifty year old right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy, American Medical Association (of which I am a member) came out clearly:

“The American Medical Association is deeply concerned by the contents and implications of the draft Supreme Court opinion for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that became public this week,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the AMA. “This opinion would lead to government interference in the patient-physician relationship, dangerous intrusion into the practice of medicine and potentially criminalizing care.”

“With deliberations underway, we strongly urge the court to reject the premise of the draft opinion and affirm precedent that allows patients to receive the critical reproductive health care that they need,” Harmon said. “Allowing the lawmakers of Mississippi or any other state to substitute their own views for a physician’s expert medical judgment puts patients at risk and is antithetical to public health and sound medical practice.”

I believe what anyone does with her body is her own business. You don’t want to take statins? That’s your business. A Japanese Yakuza cutting off his finger? His choice, not mine. Goth teen wants a Vermeer tattooed on her back? Not my concern. A woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy should be able to make that decision and have a safe, legal, affordable abortion. It’s not the business of attorneys, elected or appointed in the White House, Congress, or Supreme Court.

Historical Perspective

Looking at the history of abortion over the past two centuries, you begin to see it’s all about power and control. Whether it’s men, government, or religion, abortion opposition is an issue of dominance. Surveys have shown that Americans favor access to abortion by a ratio of 2:1, not so much that they “love abortions” (most don’t) but that they dislike being victims of control related language. “Old men in black robes <Alito is 72, Thomas 72> just don’t have the right to tell me that I can’t continue a pregnancy. That choice should be mine.”

So, in this unusually long Health Tip, let me share with you some of my own experiences with pregnancy termination, starting at such a young age and degree of naivety that to me, a ‘period’ was simply a punctuation mark. Menstruation? Late period? I was clueless.

Forgive me, but I was about ten years old, helping out in my father’s south side (a/k/a ‘Bronzeville’) drugstore, a decrepit place built sometime just after the Chicago Fire. Even though I was quite young, years later I realized that being white gave me some medical authority. Young women, or their mothers, would ask for something to bring on their periods. Dad hastily explained the physiology which I only vaguely understood, and the products we had to sell. One, a homeopathic, is still available , the other called Bitter Apple Compound, I have not seen in years. Mifepristone, the early abortion pill, would not be available until the year 2000.

Knowing now the contents of these drugstore products, I’m pretty certain not only that no one was ever hurt, but also that no successful terminations ever occurred. In all this, I was as emotionally involved as if I were selling Alka-Seltzer. (Today, some anti-abortion enthusiast would probably take steps to have my father arrested for child abuse.)

A few years later when one of my high school friends was convinced he’d gotten his girlfriend “in trouble”, I stuffed one box each of Bitter Apple and Humphrey’s into my jacket and suggested she try them. Outcome unknown.

Before Roe v. Wade, abortions were illegal, but like much else in the US, safe abortions were readily available if your family had money. Abortions, everybody knew, were readily available in New York City. A pregnant young lady would disappear for a few days and return not only having seen Mary Martin in “The Sound of Music” live on Broadway, but with what was jokingly called the Jewish two-fer, an abortion and a nose-job, the latter a frequent rite of passage that also completely legitimized her absence from school.

Pregnant girls without family money had one of three choices:

  • She married the putative father if possible. Like most couples, he was the one most encouraging the abortion.
  • She went into seclusion until delivery and then put the baby up for adoption. There were several Dickensian-sounding “Homes for Unwed Mothers” around the Midwest, most owned by the Salvation Army. See the photo, scroll down to the nursery, and notice how everyone is white. Interestingly, having a baby and raising it alone, “single mom”, was not a common scenario.
  • She attempted to self-abort or had a notorious back-alley abortion. During medical school and residency years, I spent many emergency room nights seeing the results of these botched disasters at Cook County Hospital (now Stroger).

Giving up a newborn for adoption after a stay in the “home” was psychologically brutal for most young women. After enduring labor and a bevy of stern-faced nurses, delivery and relinquishing your baby was society’s way of punishing you for having sex before marriage. You delivered and your baby immediately swaddled and whisked away. Often, you weren’t even allowed a peek at your newborn.

When I rotated through obstetrics as a resident, I witnessed a young woman screaming “My baby, just let me see my baby!”, and I never forgot it. I also never forgot this sign posted in the delivery room: “This is a Catholic Hospital. When faced with the decision of saving a mother’s life or her baby’s, you must always save the baby.”

A study published in Journal of the AMA showed that the psychological risks of having an abortion are minimal. The authors concluded: “Abortion denial may be initially associated with psychological harm to women and findings do not support restricting abortion on the basis that abortion harms women’s mental health.”

In the 1960s, before legal abortion, if you had the cash, an illegal abortion could cost a stunningly expensive $500 (about $4,000 in today’s money). Because I was in medical school, non-medical friends seemed to think I knew the ropes about where to get an abortion. When asked, I did the sensible thing and asked a senior Ob-Gyn resident.

“SSSHHH!” he whispered, but wrote down a phone number. “When you call, ask for Virginia. Then they’ll know what you want.” With pleading eyes, my friend begged “Can you make the call?”

“Virginia” (who had a male voice, and was indeed the doctor himself) was pleasant. He asked how long it had been since her last period, and said the price would be $350 cash. Three of us drove to an address on the south side, parking in front of a respectable-looking free standing medical building.

Once inside, the reception room was spotlessly clean and distinctly memorable. The physician, who hadn’t yet materialized, was clearly successful and apparently wealthy, if having an oversized waiting room filled to capacity with stuffed hunting trophies from Africa and India were any indication of wealth.

Our patient was soon escorted through a pair of frosted double doors while her friend and I sat among a full-sized lion, two zebras, a tiger, and several antelopes.

She came out about an hour later, pale, and gaunt. “How was it?” we both asked.

“It hurt, you bastards.”

The Consequences Of Overturning Roe Vs Wade

In 1965 illegal abortions made up one-sixth of all pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths, with low-income women disproportionately affected. I saw enough of them when I was on emergency room duty. God only knows who had inserted what tools into these frightened girls with huge clots between their legs. Not a few left the hospital a few days later without a uterus. When someone attempts a D and C with kitchen cutlery, the results can be savage.

I’d already started my practice when Roe v. Wade passed on January 22, 1973, and because we still had some of the milk of kindness in our veins from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the situation changed immediately. Pregnancy termination was a phone call away and performed by a board-certified gynecologist in the outpatient surgery section of a hospital or clinic.

Most low income individuals, at least in Illinois, had at the time, reasonably good health insurance that went by various names: Medicaid, Aid to Dependent Children, etc. This may be hard to believe, but pregnancy termination for a low income teenager was free. Since abortions could not be performed in the many Catholic hospitals in Chicago, outpatient freestanding “surgical centers” began opening everywhere.

As we Chicagoans wonder what is happening to our city with its rising crime rate and unsafe streets, one very well studied statistic is the 45% reduction in crime rate during the 15-20 years after abortion was readily available to low income teenage mothers. Pause and read that sentence one more time.


It’s hard to believe we might return to the days when I called “Virginia” to arrange an illegal abortion.

This overturning of Roe v Wade is yet another manifestation of Republican male dominance. Mitch McConnell held up Merrick Garland’ Supreme Court hearing, Then Trump swept in Brett Cavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, both of whom egregiously lied about their R v W position during their Senate confirmation hearings, and BANG! R v W is overturned.

Suggestion #1: No owner of a vagina should ever vote for another Republican.

Suggestion #2: We need unrestricted access to birth control. Birth control pills and devices should be free and advice about which form to use should come from virtually anyone in health care: physicians, nurses, pharmacists. After a few sex-ed classes, birth control could even be sold over the counter to anyone who has started menstruating.

Suggestions #3: We need to shift the prism on the whole right-to-life concept. If its proponents of ‘right-to-life’ are serious, they would guarantee to any pregnant woman that her child indeed has a right to life. This means if a woman carries to term, she will receive an immediate government stipend for herself and her child until the child reaches age 18. In addition, mother and child are guaranteed full healthcare coverage and, for the child, a fully-funded college education. Limit two children on this proposal. If more children are wanted, the family supports them.

If, even though a pregnant woman is aware she’ll be financially supported by the government, she still wants an abortion, she could have one at no cost.

Can you believe there people who want to punish half of our population by returning to the bad old days of death by illegal abortion?

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

55 thoughts on “The Roe Vs Wade Debacle And My Decades Dealing With Abortion

    Overturning Roe does NOT simply turn things back to the voters in states; it turns it back to legislatures, which, at this point, are subject to gerrymandering in many cases, and are not reflective of the majority.

    Dennis Newport
    Posted June 10, 2022 at 10:48 am

      Hi Dennis,

      Thank you for sharing.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted June 13, 2022 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you Dr. Edelberg for taking the time to write your comments and experiences you have had. This gave us a space to share what is on our own minds regarding this issue.
    I’m a 74 year old woman so I know a bit about what life was like for young women before Roe V Wade. My sister went through hell during an unwanted pregnancy in 1970. She experienced all the things you and others have written about here.

    I’m very concerned about the current situation many pregnant women find themselves in today with extreme restrictions in a number of states. For that reason I don’t think it can be left up to the states to decide.
    C. Nichols

    Carol Nichols
    Posted May 14, 2022 at 1:38 am

      Hi Carol,

      Thank you for sharing your experience on this matter.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you for presenting your experience and views as a doctor. I thought overturning Roe v. Wade was only about controlling women, but it is also about an infant being considered a local commodity. One of Alito’s reasons for taking away a woman’s freedom to control her own body is because the “DOMESTIC SUPPLY OF INFANTS … HAD BECOME VIRTUALLY NONESISTANT.” In Alito’s 1st draft the “Handmaiden” rational is buried in footnote 46 on page 34. I found this hard to believe, so I checked and it is there. Astounding that a baby is being defined as a commodity and the conservative Supreme Court thinks they are merely fixing a part of a broken supply chain.

    Joy Malnar
    Posted May 12, 2022 at 5:48 am

      Hi Joy,

      Thank you for sharing!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    Courageous and compelling account of your personal and professional experience with women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Thank you. I am also moved by comments of women who faced impossible choices before Roe. Any S.C. “justice” who lies during confirmation must be removed and prosecuted for perjury. A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy is a privacy issue – – that is what makes it Constitutional. All our rights to privacy have been eroded since at least 09-11-2001 and the passage of the Patriot Act. Defend the right to privacy that is recognized in Roe. This is not just a women’s issue. Just like racial justice is not just an issue that affects people of color. Legalize freedom. For everyone.

    ML Carroll
    Posted May 11, 2022 at 6:54 am

      Hi ML Carroll,

      Thank you for reading the other comments and responding. We value your input!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    If Americans had the right to have a national vote on abortion, then we would have a law making abortion legal nationwide. Almost 80% of Americans believe in the right to abortion, and here we have a Supreme Court that has been packed with right wing religious fanatics who lied when questioned regarding Roe v Wade. Just the lying should make them ineligible to sit on the highest court in the land.

    There is supposed to be separation of church and state for a very good reason. In England if you were no a member of the Church of England then your religion could make you an outlaw, hence when our government was formed it was explicitly state that religion was to be separate and off-limits from our government. So each person could worship God in their way.

    Now here we have members of the Supreme Court voting not on the basis of Medicine or Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, but because they believe abortion is a Sin.

    And to say that the right to an abortion is not historical as it is only 50 years old in this country, is incredibly warped. In that case Slavery should be reinstated since it was the historical norm.

    Aelxa
    Posted May 11, 2022 at 5:41 am

      Hi Aelxa,

      Thank you for your response.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    Your compassion and concern for women with unwanted pregnancies is appreciated. But where is the compassion and concern for the innocent life in the womb? Who will speak up for them?

    Deborah Todd
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Deborah,

      We appreciate your input. Thank you for your response.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    Doc, great article as usual. Thank you for posting it for people who have no clue what things were like before abortion was legal. A relative of mine got pregnant in the 60s when she was only 18. Didn’t dare tell her parents. So she drank tons of Pennyroyal tea to induce an abortion. She was constantly vomiting all day and evening and was in pain. Thank God she didn’t pass out or have to be taken to the hospital. And thank God it worked, because she was going to commit suicide if it didn’t.

    Anne
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 7:06 pm

      Hi Anne,
      Sorry to hear about your relative. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:22 pm

    Thank you, Dr. E.! I always appreciate your articles. This one was especially good.

    Mary Parisoe
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for being a loyal reader and for commenting!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you for this article. I’m heartened to read the American Medical Association’s words. I hope they will continue to take a very strong stand and refuse to compromise their medical oaths.

    Ann Lonstein
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Ann,

      Thank you for your response to the article.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you!
    Best article ever.

    Nancy Hughes
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank you for reading the article and for sharing!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    I’m reading this article from Tucson because I have a caring daughter who forwarded it to me. Thank you for writing it. I was one of those young women who suffered from the abortion laws and lack of birth control before Roe V Wade. I was sent from a tiny Kansas farm town in 1966 to live with my grandmother in San Diego during my unwanted pregnancy. I ended up at the Door of Hope there. I was fortunate enough to live in a modern facility with a caring staff. The counseling I received there was invaluable. I begged my parents to let me keep my baby, but they said no. I had no income and no prospects except to stay in California and go on welfare like some of the other women there did. While I seriously considered doing that, I realized that it wasn’t a viable solution. I was confident that screened parents would be better for my baby. After I returned to Kansas, my parents refused to discuss the matter and encouraged me to move on. I returned to school, but the trauma of the experience never left. At 19 I believed that I was a “used woman” sentenced a lifetime of retribution for my sin of getting pregnant. I wasn’t allowed to know who adopted my child and where he was. I constantly worried about his well being. Fortunately 20 years later we found each other and I was thrilled to learn he turned out to be a wonderful person and that I had a biological granddaughter. Although I had two wonderful children later, having to give up my first child left a cloud over my psyche that persisted most of my life. Only recently have I realized that the depression, and feelings of not deserving a good life came from that trauma that I tried unsuccessfully to stuff away until now. I am devastated that we are headed back to those days.

    Janet Wooddancer-Fisher
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Janet,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:27 pm

    Excellent article! I was literally ill after reading the infamous, leaked draft. I immediately sent a respectful email to the supremes via their “contact us” link. I then respectfully listed all of the corruption that has been linked to them and the reasons why my opinion of the court has dropped from something close to reverence to zero. I believe the court is nothing more that a cluster of political, law breaking, hacks who want to withhold freedoms of all types; e.g., abortion, voting, birth control, personal space, etc. It is my understanding that Alito referenced case law from the 15 or 16 hundreds when women and other groups were “legally” property to support the draft opinion. Maybe they all need an update in today’s law. No human being is property. There should be NO law that negates personal choice regarding the treatment decisions made between a patient and the physician.

    Donna Dufner
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Donna,

      Thank you for sharing.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:28 pm

    Thank you, thank you Dr. E! I was one of those young women who resided in a maternity home (1961, Chicago, run by the Cradle Society). It was just as you described. It was one of the “better” homes but we were still treated like pariahs by the “social workers” and the medical staff at the clinics and hospitals. And the babies were commodities. Other friends had brutal, illegal abortions. I am terrified of returning to those days.

    Janis Wrich
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 11:43 am

      Hi Janis,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:28 pm

    Great article!

    Elise
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 9:17 am

      Thank you!

      wholehealthchicago
      Posted May 10, 2022 at 10:23 am

    For people saying how “this is healthcare not politics”…healthcare IS tied to politics. Especially when everyone wants to continue to downplay COVID when it is still very much a real threat.

    Kaila
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 9:16 am

    Thank you for this very important piece, Dr. E. As always, so well written and so appreciated.

    Jennifer Baron
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:59 am

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you for reading!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you so much for your thoughts and courage.

    Susan Schwendener
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:51 am

      Hi Susan,

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:31 pm

    Why do none of the Fundamentalists realise that abortion is NEVER mentioned in the Bible? It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world. The man who carried the cross for Jesus came from Cyrene, a region of Lybia that grew rich from harvesting Silphium – used for contraception and abortion throughout the Empire. Silphium was on first century coins from that region! It was popular. I think the ancient Greeks used it, too. But Silphium got harvested to extinction. In ancient times contraception and abortion were ‘women’s business.’ We could learn from that. Here’s a link to a readable article about Silphium (https://www.nytimes.com/1994/03/08/science/in-ancient-times-flowers-and-fennel-for-family-planning.html)

    Susanne M Sklar
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:45 am

      Hi Susanne,

      Thank you for sharing.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:31 pm

    Appreciate an informed opinion from the front lines of health care and the historical ugly truth for those who have lived only during a time of access to abortion. I had an abortion at 16. Just once my boyfriend and I did not use protection. Just this one time after waiting years to have sex. Still, today, society and powerful men/churches think they have the right to abuse my mind and heart over this painful experience. The humane thing is to respectfully and humbly admit you have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body. She has a beating heart too. Since the Republicans are so bent on the right to life – how about they try enacting some common sense gun laws so my kids don’t have to do active shooter drills at school? Oh right. Thoughts and prayers. Pissing off women has never been wise. To those women who join with them…I feel for you and your daughters. Pathetic is the word that comes to mind.

    Jeanne Nohalty
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 8:10 am

      Hi Jeanne,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:30 pm

    This is disappointing. You should stay out of politics and morality. We live in a Constitutional Republic where States rights matter and the federal government has limited powers. Overturning Roe simply returns the issue back to the states, putting the issue in the hand of the voters. The job of the Court is to interpret the Constitution, which makes no mention of a right to abortion. Get out of your feelings and pick up a copy of the Constitution.

    Patrick
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 7:46 am

      Hi Patrick,

      Thank you for sharing your input regarding this matter.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:30 pm

    Dr E, this is in excellent compelling article. You are an important voice with tremendous perspective. I would encourage you to share this more broadly. The only thing I would add is the clarification ir may not end here. A republic congress will likely pursue the full denial of abortion for all states. Just because we will in a progressive state doesn’t mean we are safe.

    Irene
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 7:12 am

      Hi Irene,

      Thank you for reading and sharing!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    Thank you! It is so important we all use our voices and platforms to speak up. 1 in 4 persons will have an abortion in their lifetime. Almost 70% want abortion to be legal and 8 in 10 support choice. Minority ruling the majority and it needs to change. Thank you for sharing.

    Dawn Koenigsknecht
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 7:02 am

      Hi Dawn,

      Thank you for your input!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    We need more outspoken physicians like you, dr. David. Thank you!

    Dana
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 6:47 am

      Hi Dana,

      Thank you for reading and responding.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:37 pm

    A friend of mine, a religious Catholic physician, said about “right to life” advocates: “It’s right to birth, not right to life. Once the baby is born, they don’t care about it.”

    Addie
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 6:31 am

      Hi Addie,

      Thank you for sharing.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:37 pm

    Thank you David! Brilliant!

    Linda Silbert
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 6:30 am

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for your response.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you, David.

    Tony Spreitzer
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 6:24 am

      Hi Tony,

      Thank you for reading the article!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:39 pm

    Well-said, as usual, Doctor!

    Catherine Witek
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 6:15 am

      Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for the response!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Sue Richards
    Posted May 10, 2022 at 5:46 am

      Hi Sue,

      Thank you for reading!

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted May 23, 2022 at 7:40 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *