Women Who’ve Lived Through Illegal Abortions

Testimonies from women who have had illegal abortions, delivered as part of an event dedicated to "A Woman's Right to Choose" at the NYU Law School. Followed by repetition of footage used in the installation "Different Strokes for Different Folks."

01:14Copy video clip URL A poster for a pro-choice event with an illustration of the figure of Justice. Onscreen text: “A Woman’s Right to Choose. Saturday, October 21. NYU Law School. 11am. Tishman Auditorium. 40 Washington Square South NYC. New York Abortion Hearings.”

01:45Copy video clip URL Title card. Credits: “A videotape/film by Rochelle Shulman. In cooperation with Planned Parenthood WONAAC.”

02:00Copy video clip URL A woman introduces introduces the first panel, made up of women “witnesses” who will speak before they hear from doctors and lawyers. 

02:40Copy video clip URL The first speaker: Going into labor after a month of suffering from complications and pain from an abortion. Being abused and harassed by the police while in the hospital. A long legal battle. The support of her friend Tommy, a mother of five, whom she met in the hospital and who died as the result of an illegal abortion in 1961. A response to Eunice Shriver’s assertion that adoption is “the answer to abortion. “I was an adopted child also and I found my parents after 40 years. The members of my organization and I feel that it is not immoral to abort a fetus but it is immoral to force a girl to give birth to a child and relegate it to lifetime anonymity, and this is what adoption is as the laws now stand.” 

05:55Copy video clip URL The second speaker: Getting pregnant at 17 because, being Catholic, she did not use birth control, and her boyfriend was controlling and insisted she’d be okay. The boyfriend’s second abortion, using the same place for an abortion with his previous girlfriend. Meeting a guy in a gas station, who took her to the location alone – not letting her boyfriend come with them. Performing the operation in an apartment, where she was harassed and fondled and assaulted. The painful operation. “I aborted and I kept it in a tissue for like a year, and put it in a little box. ‘Cuz I thought I was supposed to feel guilty about the whole thing and I didn’t feel guilty so I figured, well, if I keep it maybe I can feel guilty later. [laughs] So I kept it in this little wooden box and a year later I was cleaning house and it was about time to throw things out. It was just like a daub of blood and I figured this is supposed to be important… It was a pretty confusing thing. And then I finally realized that I was more important than any of this shit.”

08:36Copy video clip URL The third speaker: An older woman, speaking about visiting a female doctor when she was younger and being shamed for wanting a diaphragm. Getting a successful abortion but the procedure being extremely painful due to  a lack of anesthetic. 

09:25Copy video clip URL The fourth speaker: A young Black woman speaks about the effects of birth control pills on Black women and the Black community. Worries about adverse effects on those with characteristics of sickle cell anemia. A limited number of safe and effective options for contraception. Needing to come into New York for abortions. 

11:54Copy video clip URL The fifth speaker: Becoming pregnant at 19 in 1964 because she was using Emko, an ineffective contraceptive foam. Trying to effect an abortion on her by taking hot mustard baths, drinking full bottles of gin, and throwing herself down the stairs. Overdosing on migraine pills and nearly killing herself. Eventually finding a doctor to perform the procedure. 

13:56Copy video clip URL Interview with another speaker. Becoming pregnant despite having an IUD. Getting a legal abortion at the NYU hospital, which cost $400. The small but significant statistical failure of IUDs and the need for legal abortions (and money) for those who are “statistical victims of modern science.” 

15:11Copy video clip URL The woman who introduced the program returns. “The Catholic hierarchy has spoken for us just too often and we feel that now we should get up and speak for ourselves. They impose their doctrine upon us like a brainwashing technique and we have all suffered in some way or another and we continue to suffer more than any woman in this room today. The doctrine of the Catholic Church is simple. Three easy steps to ruin your life. Number one, no premarital intercourse therefore no education on contraception, of course. Then if you get married you are given a choice. You can use a birth control method, but only one: the rhythm. But it doesn’t work for most women because they are not that physically regular to have it work for them. Then if they do have a birth using the rhythm method – or five births, or six, or seven, which has been the case many times in a Catholic home – they cannot have an abortion. They can never think of it – legal, illegal, or otherwise. It’s easy to leave the church. It’s easy to leave the Church. It’s easy not to fight and to fight outside the Church but we refuse to leave the Church. We believe in many of their doctrines but not in some. So we’re going to fight inside the Church and I make a plea to all Catholic women here and otherwise to stand up and be brave. Shake away your fears and your shame and your guilt. Stand up with us. Join the women’s movement. It’s going to help you more than any other woman in this room.”

16:52Copy video clip URL End credits over another speaker, talking about mobilizing women: “Produced and edited by Rochelle Shulman, 1973. Special editing assistance: Knut Elberg, Patricia Depew, John Godfrey, WNET TV Lab. Camera/sound: Patricia Depew, Cabell Glicker, Joel Gold, Rochelle Shulman. Sound-Technical Production: John Dove, Patricia Depew, Rochelle Shulman.  Thank you Video Access Center, Teleprompter, Alternate Media Center, NYU Videotech.”

17:21Copy video clip URL End of video. 

18:20Copy video clip URL Footage of the marquees in front of the Roxy. Interviews with men about porngraphic films. The recoding stops and starts. This footage was recorded for the installation Different Strokes for Different Folks, by Susan Milano and Ann Volkes. This interview was conducted by Barbara Jabaily. 

20:00Copy video clip URL Interview with young men about The Devil in Miss Jones, a porno film. “It was kinda like… nudicist…. It was nudicist but it was all right, before the simple fact is the movie is just man’s imagination going wild, that’s all. You can’t do it in real life so why not act about it?” “You can so do that in real life,” another one says. One of the men, Marvin Smart, asks the interviewer her opinion on “cunninglist” before she laughingly interrupts to assert that “I’m doing the interview!”

20:45Copy video clip URL The interviewer asks if the young men identified with the lead character. They interpret that as a question about whether they were aroused: “It’s only natural to get an erection!” Discussion of pornography’s effects on men and on society, including possibly encouraging assaults “Now, I think they shouldn’t ban these type of movies because some men cannot have pleasure with women. They’re shy, you dig it? …You know, maybe they might go to the back of the movies and ejaculate. Am I using the right word?” Women passing by on the street stare, seemingly surprised. 

23:29Copy video clip URL Repeat footage of the previous interview. 

27:10Copy video clip URL Another repeat of the interview. 

31:19Copy video clip URL From Women Who’ve Live Through Illegal Abortions: the final speech about the Catholic Church. 



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