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Hyde Park Voices

Remarkable Story

by Jane (July 1973) Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6

Part II

During the first several months of work with Dr. C, who was our final choice among the abortionists interviewed to work with the new service, most of the abortions were performed by him and a nurse in motel rooms or the patient’s home.

After a woman was counseled, we would tell them her name, her phone, how much money she had, and relevant medical Information we had learned. They would take it from there.

The nurse would tell the patient when and where to meet. They would perform the abortion and call us when it was all over. They were doing about 10 abortions a week for us at this time, up to three on a given day.

The wall of mutual distrust was high at first. Although Dr. C agreed to let us know when a particular woman would be done, he would not let us know where. We could know him and the nurse only by code names and could reach them only through their answering service. He kept medical techniques a top secret, but was always reassuring and readily supplied general information.

They supplied and dispensed all drugs. We knew the names and properties of the drugs, but had no idea of how they were obtained.

We had few medical problems with Dr. C in the first few months. Occasionally women complained of cramps, and there were one or two with minor infections. But for the most part, the women were well satisfied.

In addition, Dr. C kept his word and did an occasional free case. According to reports from the women, free cases were treated no differently than the paying ones.

For several months, while the medical situation was stable, we concentrated on organizing the counseling service—recruiting and training new counselors, spreading the word to new groups of women, raising money for the loan fund and trying to figure out some way to deal with long term abortions.

During the organizing period, we struggled continually to relate the politics of abortion to the rapidly growing women’s liberation movement. One strong faction In the movement considered any service organization to be charitable rather than political. Several groups considered abortion to be genocide.

While we could accept being illegitimate before the law, we needed a solid base of support in the women’s movement to survive, emotionally as well as operationally.

Then the coalition that was to become the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union formed and quickly made clear its support for the service. While we decided not to affiliate formally with the Union, we worked together closely, the union organizing support groups and working to change public opinion about abortion while we worked to make abortion available.

Two major factors caused us to re-direct our attention from counseling and making referrals to specifically arranging abortions and handling medical details.

  • First was the increasing number of women who sought the service. Second was the problem of long-term pregnancies of 12 weeks or more.
  • We were now referring up to 12 abortions a week to Dr. C. The higher volume and Jane’s demands for quality care and follow-through put strains on him.

Occasionally he lost a phone number and the woman would become frantic; some women were rushed by the nurse and became rightfully angry at us.

So we pushed for more responsibility, more authority and more control, and Dr. C gradually and reluctantly assented.

We began to set up schedules ourselves, and to personally deliver women to a motel and pick them up afterwards. Sometimes we would reserve one room and schedule several women for it, saving them the additional cost

Jane—our code name for the counselor who was taking calls and coordinating activities on any given day—became the contact point on working days. She knew where each woman was supposed to be and how the abortionist’s schedule was running. If there was to be a long wait, a counselor would wait with the woman.

Dr. C still insisted on protecting his secret identity. We had to leave the motel room before they arrived, and stay away till they had gone. It was important, he maintained, that no one ever see him in connection with any actual abortion— that way no one could be forced to identify him in court.

We were still a long way from doing paramedical work, but we were learning more about abortions. For example, we learned a simple D&C took no more than one-half hour from the time the nurse knocked on the motel door until they both left.

We saw women ten minutes after their abortions were completed, and they were healthy and happy. They were up and about, bleeding very little, and very hungry. It gave us confidence, as well as the desire to expand our scope.

About one month after we began doing the scheduling, we had an experience that made use quit using motel rooms altogether.

A woman named Marie was being done in a fancy Southside motel one busy Saturday. She was only about 10 weeks pregnant, very cooperative and there seemed to be no problems; But halfway through the abortion there was a heavy pounding on the door and a man’s voice yelled:

“Come on out of there, baby killer!”

The woman whispered, ”Oh, no. That’s my husband. He promised he would stay away.” The pounding stopped momentarily and then started again. The nurse tried to quiet the man through the chained door, while Dr. C worked to finish the scraping. (Most problems with early abortions are caused by an incomplete job.)

By the time the abortion was completed, the man was screaming that people in the motel room were killing his wife. The nurse helped Marie clean up, while Dr. C threw the instruments into a bag.

There was a silence outside, so they grabbed the bag and got ready to make a getaway. But as soon as they unlocked the door, the man pushed his way in, yelling that he was going to kill the baby killer.

Suddenly the woman jumped out of the bed, pushed past all three and ran down the hall in her bathrobe. Her husband ran after her while Dr. C and the nurse took off in the opposite direction, around the corner and down the elevator to the lobby, trying to look calm and inconspicuous.

As they entered the lobby, the man was coming down the stairs. He saw them and yelled in the crowded lobby: “There’s the baby killer! I’m going to kill you.”

Dr. C clutched his bag and ran out the door, the man in hot pursuit. He dodged through cars in the parking lot, jumped across hedges and ran for blocks between buildings and down alleys before he escaped.

He called Jane, breathless, from a gas station, and within moments a counselor picked him up and took him to her house. The nurse arrived a few minutes later.

By now, all pretense about concealing the identity of the abortionist was over. It felt so safe to be in a private home instead of a motel that everybody— several counselors, the nurse and the abortionist—all relaxed together.

It was immediately agreed that we would have to find an alternative to motels.

It was also understood from that time that the service and the abortionist would have to work together more closely—as a team rather than as adversaries—-in spite of the obvious conflicts and problems.

We had not heard the last from the angry husband. He called Jane the next day to say his wife was ill and he wanted his $500 back or he would go to the police. We arranged to meet him downtown the next day. Meanwhile, Marie’s counselor learned she was fine.

When we met him, he looked like a mild-mannered business man. We offered him a $250 refund if he signed a statement saying the abortion was done with his full knowledge and consent.

He refused, so we told him to send us the hospital bills and walked away. That night he threatened to come after us with a gun if we didn’t pay the whole thing. We told him we would call the state’s attorney and charge him with extortion if we ever heard from him again. We never did.

The incident taught us never to compromise with extortionists, whom we ran across repeatedly through the years. We consistently refused all demands for money, but agreed to pick up medical bills resulting from the abortion.

The next time the abortionists worked, it was at the home of a counselor. And in spite of their discomfort at being so overexposed, the atmosphere was as delightful as any abortion parlor could be.

Seven women were done that day, in a setting where they could relax and talk with other women in a similar predicament and when women walked out of the bedroom, feeling fine and no longer pregnant, the other six were noticeably relieved. They asked her questions and got first-hand answers.

A counselor was there all day also, answering questions, coordinating with Jane, and generally helping out. Clearly, it was a better way to do illegal abortions.

We worked in private apartments and homes for the next six months, taking on more and more responsibility for minor medically-related jobs. We were now scheduling as many as 15 abortions a day, two days a week, and it became necessary for the counselors to help with such jobs as cleaning the rooms and sterilizing the instruments between patients.

The nurse was too busy now to sit and talk with the patients while the abortion was being done, so counselors insisted on taking over that job. Dr. C at first resisted giving up yet another area of his private domain. When he finally agreed, he treated the counselor as a member of the team, but reserved the right to limit the counselors to those he knew and trusted.

Thus, several of us who had been doing abortion counseling for almost eight months could finally see an abortion first-hand. The procedure was simpler, cleaner and faster than any of us had imagined.

The job of holding hands and talking with patients, we soon realized, was as important to many patients’ physical and mental welfare as performing the-abortion competently, or as good counseling and follow-up care.

We learned a lot from watching Dr. C talk with the patients, putting his initial effort into striking up a real two-way conversation before the actual abortion was begun. He said it made the job more interesting for him, as well as the patient.

Sometimes the conversations were light-hearted and silly, sometimes controversial—he might see a “peace now” button on her coat and say, “Listen, l think every young man should have the opportunity to go to war.” We saw women laughing during their abortion ... or arguing politics. .. or singing.

We copied his style at first, then developed our own. The most basic rule was: talk to the person, relate to her needs and interests. We tried steering the talk to women’s liberation, and discovered that most women were intensely interested in that issue, although many had never thought about it before being faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

Some women wanted a detailed, step-by-step description of the abortion as it was going on, and others wanted to talk about anything but the abortion.

It was good to have the opportunity to pick up on special personal or medical problems and report them back to the woman’s counselor and Jane. For example, a woman who insisted during the abortion that she wanted the baby but her mother wouldn’t let her keep it was much more likely to have all kinds of problems afterward.

It was also nice to be able to say to apprehensive women in a counseling session: “You will never be alone. A counselor from women’s liberation will be with you all the time, holding your hand and answering your questions.”

It was a practice that the medical system could well institute—having a person in the room at all times whose primary job is to attend to the emotional needs of the patient.

About this time, we learned for certain that Dr. C was not a doctor, as he had so vehemently maintained.

Having to deal with this new knowledge pushed us into making more major changes in the politics and activities of the service ... at a time when the status quo was challenging enough.

Most of the original counselors suspected this from the beginning—his attitudes and manner, his conflicting stories about medical training, his limited knowledge about medical subjects not related to abortion just didn’t fit with “Doctor.”

But as months went by and he did more and more abortions with relatively few problems, we gave very little thought to the “doctor” question.

But we were to learn that the question was very relevant to several new counselors. Many of them had come into the service after it was already functioning, and they apparently accepted the use of the phrases “Doctor C” and “Doctor A” at meetings and training sessions-

The original organizers had never stressed the question to new recruits... maybe because there was so much other essential information to communicate to new counselors in training sessions ... maybe because we realized it was a potentially explosive issue and felt it was more important at that time to build confidence and keep things running smoothly.


On to Part III

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