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size the intensity of the feelings here in your closing remarks by suggesting that this is a controversial amendment. I think beyond that it is a very complicated one. I know of no other amendment that involves the scientific, legal, technical ramifications that this one does.
I certainly hope you appreciate that fact as well.
Senator Bayh. The committee is now recessed, subject to the call of the Chair.
[Whereupon, at 1:40 p.m., the subcommittee recessed, to reconvene subject to the call of the Chair.]
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 1974
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:30 a.m., in room 318, Russell Senate Office Building, Senator Birch Bayh (chairman of the subcommittee), presiding.
Present: Senators Bayh (presiding), and Fong.
Also present: J. William Heckman, chief counsel; Abby Brezina, chief clerk; and Teddie Phillips, assistant clerk.
Senator Bays. We will reconvene our hearings. Apologies to our witnesses for my tardy arrival. I got nailed before I could get out of the office. I am sorry for the inconvenience it may have caused you.
The first witness today, forming a panel, speaking for the National Abortion Rights Action League, Ms. Pamela Lowry, executive committee member of NARAL and director of constitutional defense project, Massachusetts; Dr. Jane Shoup, a member of the Coalition for Freedom of Choice, the State of Indiana, Mrs. Dorothy Roudebush, chairperson, Committee for Legal Abortions, of Missouri.
I appreciate the fact that you will join us this morning.
STATEMENTS OF MS. PAMELA LOWRY, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
MEMBER OF NARAL AND DIRECTOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL
I think that was partly because I have been a veteran of testifying before the Massachusetts Legislature and people felt anyone who had braved the Massachusetts Legislature could start out this morning.
Senator Bays. They say the same thing about Indiana.
Ms. Lowry. I am here representing the National Abortion Rights Action League started in 1968. It is a group that is dedicated to protecting the right of choice for all women in the question of the bearing of children. It is a broad coalition group.
I think too often this issue is set up so people assume there are only two sides and both are extremist. But I think there are a large number of people who, while they are not particularly comfortable with abortion and not proabortion, are very strongly prochoice and therefore represent a very strong middle segment of society.
NARAL used to be called the National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. Its purpose was to repeal restrictive laws across the country. Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it seemed very clear that the name should be changed, that it was no longer necessary to assert any effort in legislative arenas concerning the right to choose; but we were very obviously wrong, and I think that is what brings us all here today.
I have been involved in this field, family planning, sex education, abortion, for about a decade. I started with the Planned Parent League of Massachusetts. I can remember on the first official day that I spent there as a staff member, August 1, 1965, the executive director went over and watched the Massachusetts general court defeat a bill which for the first time would have legalized contraception. The legislature voted to make it illegal for a physician to fit a diaphragm or prescribe pills or even give contraceptive advice to a 45-year-old mother. This was the way things were in that time.
Senator Bays. When was that?
The legislature chose to ignore it, not because they as individuals opposed birth control. We could count the numbers of senators and representatives who voted against birth control whose wives we knew were on the pill. It was very clear this was a vote giving in to a very well organized, very vociferous religious lobby existing in Massachusetts, and known to exist there still.
Planned Parenthood concentrated on changing the contraceptive laws. What was incredible was, at that time, the fact was that it was easier to get a legal abortion in Massachusetts than contraception. Abortion was permitted under a restrictive the life of the mother being imperiled. Yet her doctor could go to jail if he prescribed contraception for her. Our concentration was making birth control legal and available by changing the laws. Gradually change they did. People began to be less embarrassed to come forward to legal legitimate sources of information and medical help, and things began to open up.
I think it was inevitable that with this increased honesty and openness, somebody should eventually feel this might apply one step further.
In 1967 a young woman-I think she was about 27 years old-she was married, with one very young child, walked into the Planned Parenthood office and sat down and explained that, for her, it was too late for contraception. They had used a method, it had failed and she was pregnant. She knew that Planned Parenthood dealt with contraception, but could we help her, give her information, tell her where to go to get an abortion? Well, this threw the staff into a bit of quandary. We did some research and within a week that woman was on a plane going to Japan. The only legal options open to her as a physically healthy person were to either go behind the Iron Curtain or to travel half way around the world.
After this incident we informed our medical advisory committee. They all lifted eyebrows, spoke with concern and felt that because this was an issue of great controversy, we should go very, very slowly on it. As soon as they got back to the offices, however, they went through patient registers and started referring people to us for trips to Japan.
I can appreciate the dilemma on the one hand feeling that it was something nice people weren't involved in, and on the other hand, feeling it was a great relief to have an out-for the patient.
So Planned Parenthood, much against its wishes, found itself involved in referring cases for abortion out of the country and around the world.
In 1968 the British changed their laws. They passed a fairly sweeping reform act. It was a very, very liberal law. The cost of going to London for an abortion was half that of going to Japan. For $800 you could get on the plane and go and get legal medical care. This opened up a tremendous—a flood gate of people who felt that they could somehow manage $800 and who came to Planned Parenthood for help and information.
I can remember some of the cases that came in. Most of them are generally a blur, and I am not sure how valuable it is to start talking about individual case histories. I am sure this committee has been hit with everybody's life story. There are a few who stand out. I don't know if you know Boston, but there was one woman from South Boston who came in. She had five children and was married, and she had never been outside the limits of Metropolitan Boston. The farthest she had gone was on the MTA up to Revere Beach. She had a morbid fear of Aying. That woman got together her life savings and put her five children in the care of her sister and flew off to London. It was an incredible thing to watch this happen. It was an incredible thing to watch these people come in the door and see how they had to pull their lives together and deal with this situation, and on top of it deal with restrictive laws at home. Even more frustrating, the ones who, when you said $800, sat there in utter silence and bewilderment, with tears in their eyes because there was nothing they could do. These were the people who went back out of that office and started the hunt for classic illegal abortions.
I will be honest. There were some half way decent, half way competent illegal practitioners around at that time. There was a licensed physician who was a surgeon and he worked out of Boston about 10 blocks away from a major Catholic maternity hospital. He charged $650. If you wanted an anesthetic it was an additional $100.
There was a man in Newton who I once saw who was also a licensed physician. He was an alcoholic and he drank during procedures in order to steady his hand; and so it went, down the rung of the people who weren't physicians and so on. It was a terrible kind of thing to witness.
People like me who had to sit and counsel them, and people across the country who came in contact with situations like this really felt moved to do something. You either had to get out of it completely and isolate yourself from the reality or do something to change it. This is how groups like NAARL got started with men and women
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across the country, with somebody who was trapped by the discriminatory laws who felt, "we have to change this, it just isn't fair."
One of the things we did in Boston was to get together a coalition of clergymen, social workers, psychiatrists, family, planning experts and physicians and set up a group called Pregnancy Counseling Service which opened its doors the first month in 1970. This was 6 months before the New York law changed. In those months that Pregnancy Counseling Service operated, primarily as an information and referral center, it saw, before the New York law changed, 2,000 women. This was a fledgling operation, a fledgling organization, yet in the first 6 months, we saw 2,000 women from all across Massachusetts; women_also came down from Maine, from Vermont, from Connecticut. Forty percent of those women in the pre-New York era went to London and had abortions there. Ten percent decided to continue with their pregnancy or had no option but to continue with their pregnancy. Ten percent got abortions under therapeutic laws that were beginning to loosen up in Massachusetts, California and Washington, D.C., although it cost more to go to California than it did to fly to London. Forty percent of that caseload went illegally or, as people say euphemistically, extra legally. With the advent of the New York law, it was extraordinary what a difference it made. Within 1 month there was not one more illegal case that came through the office. There was not one more trip to London. It was like, well, today's picture of the stock market. Certain referral categories went straight down. There were no more referrals to London, no more illegal cases at all. Suddenly we were able to say, “no, you don't have to leave the country; you only have to drive 200 miles." It meant for the first time we were able to offer legal operations and provide decent medical care for women who, in the past, had had no options at all—unless you consider going to the pharmacist in Roxbury and getting little black pills as an option, or going to that hair dresser in Quincy who used to do quite a job with a lye douche.
You get bombarded with statistics all the time, so I won't quote the numbers, but I really think the change that we witnessed was one that is just very hard to put into words. The statistical tables that are released by the Center for Disease Control and things that come out of U.S. Public Health Service say it, I think, in figures and in numbers. What we saw was the human side of it, and that was just extraordinary.
With the Supreme Court ruling we made yet another dramatic leap. People who were involved in health care, welfare services, social services, counseling, and medicine all across the country breathed a tremendous sigh of relief when that ruling came down. We had seen a lot of problems in referring women to resources that were 200 miles away or, since I am just speaking for Massachusetts, for many people who were literally thousands of miles away. You don't get quality medical care when you have to go that far to be placed under a doctor's advice. I think all of us were greatly relieved and we sat back and said, "thank heavens. We no longer have to do battle, we can get on with the business of providing just basic, decent health care.”
Well, obviously, we spoke too soon. Very quickly there arose several groups particularly a great alliance between extremely con