This Date in UCSF History: Fighting for Choice
[This story was originally published in Synapse on Oct. 8, 1981.]
A group of speakers at a Civic Center march and rally Saturday warned of increasing anti-abortion legislation and urged support of women’s right to choose abortion. The demonstration, which drew about 1,000 people, was sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women and participants included community organizations and concerned individuals.
San Francisco supervisors Nancy Walker and Harry Britt spoke in support of abortion rights, as did representatives of the California Abortion Rights Action League, the National Black Independent Political Party, the Committee to Defend Reproductive Rights, the Feminist Health Center, Planned Parenthood, the Unitarian Church, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
Interspersed with the speakers many women performers donated their talents, including Terry Garthwaite and Holly Near. Many spoke against the Human Life Amendment and the Human Life Bill, two measures now before Congress to ban abortion nationally.
Some also attacked the Hyde Bill, which currently prevents federal funding for women who cannot pay for abortions except when the women’s life is endangered by the pregnancy, or in cases of rape or incest. Loren Stein, of Planned Parenthood, focused on recent California legislation regarding abortion. State Senate Bill 732 requires “informed consent” for abortion.
The bill requires a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed. It requires the attending physician to advise the woman of the consequences of the procedure on the fetus, possible side effects of abortion or childbirth, and the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus at the time of the abortion.
Provisions in the measure also require that physicians determine the woman has not been physically or psychologically coerced into having the procedure and to explain the benefits available if she carries the pregnancy to term.
This bill already has passed the state Senate and is scheduled to be heard before the Assembly Judiciary Committee in January.
Stein argued that the bill is intended to harass women and deter access to abortions. The provision for excessive patient information and the required 24-hour delay will add to the already expensive abortion procedure for which Medi-Cal funding is tenuous, she said. She urged people to write Elihu Harris (D-Alameda), the chairperson of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, in opposition to the bill.
Maida Taylor, assistant professor of Ob-Gyn at UCSF, highlighted medical reasons for the availability of safe, legal abortions. Referring to the 1960’s when complications from illegal abortions were the leading cause of maternal death in the U.S., she said, “I never want to see us regress to the days when every large municipal hospital had huge septic shock wards to care for the complications of illegal abortions and daily, women lost their uteri, fertility, health, and lives.”
She compared the health risks of abortion with those of term pregnancy, saying abortion carries a lower risk of mortality to women at every age and stage of gestation than does pregnancy and childbirth. The difference is striking in women aged 40-44, when the mortality from abortion is 1-2 per 100,000 women, while mortality from term pregnancy is 22-23 per 100,000.
She described the increase in health risks among women who have more than four children, who run a higher risk of death during childbirth. These women also die at a younger age, in general, and have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes. “It’s glib to say a woman takes her life in her hands every time she goes to bed with a man, but it’s true,” Taylor said.
Children also run higher risks when abortion is not available. In families where children are spaced closer than every two years, infants are more likely to be premature, of low birth weight, and to have poor growth and development. In addition, Taylor said, parents with many children who are spaced closely together may have problems providing adequate psychological, social, and financial support for their children.
The option of abortion is crucial for women who know they are carrying a child with severe congenital anomalies, Taylor continued. “Several hundred genetic disorders can now be diagnosed in utero. Without legal abortion, these families would not have the option to terminate affected pregnancies.”
“We need to address not only the quantity of life but also the quality,” she concluded. “Keeping abortion available, accessible, and safe for those who choose it ensures the optimum opportunity for high physical, mental, and social quality of life for both mother and child.”
This demonstrator was one of 1,000 at Saturday’s march and rally at the S.F. Civic Center.