Both sides of the debate over legal abortions have invoked the images of the "back-alley butcher" and the coat hanger as a portrayal of abortionists in the years before the Roe v. Wade
decision. Anti-abortionists use these symbols to portray abortionists as greedy, exploitative, and less than professional, while supporters of choice invoke them to warn of the jeopardy in which women's lives would be placed if abortion were recriminalized.
But the truth about pre-Roe abortion is often quite different. Carole Joffe interviews 45 health-care professionals who either provided safe abortions or access to them in those years, focusing on, as she puts it, "the mounting frustrations with anti-abortion legislation that led otherwise highly conventional physicians to various degrees of law breaking and law bending" and the impact that decision had on their personal and professional lives. These people got involved because they could not stand by while women suffered from poverty or health complications; for many, it was more a matter of profound internal religious questioning. "I felt the solution to God's problems, in the world, was through faith," says one doctor. "Through faith in God we'd find a way to solve these problems... God wasn't going to solve all our problems. We've got to solve them ourselves." Doctors of Conscience is a solid, well-rounded portrayal of several people who came to such decisions; as an informed document, it offers much clarity and insight into a highly controversial issue.
From Publishers Weekly
Despite the lingering image of "back-alley butchers" performing abortions in the era before the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized the procedure, not all doctors who provided abortion were incompetent or greedy. Joffe, a sociology professor at UC-Davis, interviewed 45 doctors?35 men, 10 women?who either performed illegal abortions or engaged in related activities such as providing backup medical services to patients and campaigning for legalization. She found her respondents to be competent, caring and motivated by conscience and compassion for women with unwanted pregnancies. The doctors' experience prior to Roe convinced them of the imperative need for legalization, and in the years after 1973, they not only faced harassment from the antiabortion movement but also engaged in a broader struggle?hospitals yielding to antiabortion pressure and shutting down services, hostile landlords, isolation and stigmatization within the medical community. Today some 84% of U.S. counties lack abortion facilities. Joffe's urgent report outlines the role the medical community could play in improving abortion services.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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