Before Roe v. Wade: The 50th Anniversary of a Landmark California Case

Demonstrator at New York City Women’s March, January 21, 2017. Photo: © Edith Marie Photography

“Should abortion be legalized?” That was the question posed on a forum in 1964 on Pacifica Radio. Nine years before the Supreme Court would give its own answer in Roe v. Wade, a trio of panelists debated the issue for listeners in Los Angeles.

Prompting the forum was a bill in the Legislature to liberalize California’s abortion laws. At the time, abortion was illegal unless the mother’s life was at risk. The proposed legislation, endorsed by the California Medical Association, allowed exceptions in cases of rape or incest, or when a pregnancy was not life-threatening but posed other harm to a patient’s physical or mental health.


People v. Belous marked the first time a patient’s constitutional right to abortion was upheld in the courts.


Did the bill go too far — or not far enough? Each panelist had a different take. Attorney Zad Leavy discussed the legal quandaries of people facing unintended pregnancies. He was cautious about full legalization but critical of the existing ban. Dr. Robert Hood, an area surgeon, opposed the legalization of abortion and even questioned the validity of the medical reasons commonly cited for justifying abortions. In sharp contrast, Dr. Leon Belous, an attending physician at LA’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, did not mince words in his support for legal abortion on demand.

Belous felt outlawing abortion was an example of “man’s inhumanity to women.” As he put it, “An injured dog on the street is treated with more sympathy and concern” than the countless women dying annually, or who risked that fate, from self-induced or black-market abortions. “I have seen seven to 10 of these women every month for the last 32 years,” Belous continued. “I have been seeing them in my office, many of them in the operating room, and some of them in the morgue.” He told of one who had been raped and another in desperate poverty, unable to support a child.

Belous concluded by sharing his hope that California’s “antiquated, unrealistic, and barbaric” ban would be overturned. Five years later, Belous was at the center of a case that did just that. Continue reading

The Gag Rule and the Abortion Bans Explained, and What You Can Do to Fight Back

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Reproductive health has been under attack in the United States for decades, and this administration is no exception. Especially within the past few months, both national and state governments have taken definitive steps to take away bodily autonomy from those who can get pregnant. Title X funding and legal abortion are both essential aspects of reproductive health care in this country, but several states have made attempts to effectively ban abortion, and the Trump administration has attempted to place restrictions on Title X funding. Although Title X is only used to fund birth control, not abortion care, the two issues are connected, as hostility toward abortion and hostility toward birth control both come from the same place.


Access to reliable birth control prevents abortion. So why is it being restricted?


Title X is a program that was passed by Congress in 1970 that provides federal funding for birth control and other reproductive services to low-income families who otherwise could not afford them. These lifesaving services include birth control, cancer screenings, wellness exams, and STD testing and treatment. Approximately 33 percent of recipients are Hispanic/Latinx, and 21 percent are black/African American. Thanks to Title X funding, in 2016, health centers provided more than 4 million STD tests, 1 million breast exams, and 720,000 Pap tests.

The gag rule that the Trump administration has issued would prevent doctors from telling women how to access abortion, prevent Planned Parenthood from providing Title X-subsidized birth control to eligible patients, and prevent health-care professionals from giving women complete and accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health. It would impose strict and unnecessary requirements on the separation of Title X-related services and abortion services. It prevents doctors from giving abortion referrals, which discourages comprehensive reproductive health centers such as Planned Parenthood from offering counseling and referrals, while encouraging the same from inadequate resources such as crisis pregnancy centers, which shame women and do not provide accurate medical information. Low-income people using Title X shouldn’t have their health care compromised by politicians playing doctor. They should receive the same high-quality care as anyone else. Continue reading

Victories and Vigilance

If you are keeping count, last week saw the 100th day of our Arizona state legislative session. Some might say that the lack of any outright proposals to attack abortion during this legislative session should feel wonderful. It does.

But — although there has been a 63 percent increase in six-week abortion bans introduced in state legislatures across the country — Arizona has seen zero bills further reducing access to reproductive health care because Arizona is already one of the most over-regulated states in the country for abortion care. It does not mean progress has been achieved when it comes to gender equality.

Remaining Vigilant

Instead of introducing another ban on abortion, Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) decided to go after state funding for 2-1-1, a hotline that connects people with resources across Arizona, especially in times of need. Cathi Herrod, who leads CAP, is jeopardizing more than 900,000 Arizonans’ connection to critical social services for $33 worth of calls from people seeking information on their private, constitutionally protected right to abortion care. It is simply more proof that Arizonans’ health, safety, and practical needs are being dismissed for an extremist agenda at the expense of our collective well-being.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failed to move forward and the efforts to pass it this session have been stopped in their tracks. Even with the groundswell of women who led in voting in the midterms, it is still an uphill battle to get the ERA passed and eventually ratified.

Celebrating Victories

These setbacks have not deterred our endorsed legislators, who piece by piece are getting protections and advancements for people’s rights to the governor’s desk. Continue reading

Ending a Wanted Pregnancy: Jacqueline’s Story

The following guest post comes to us via Jacqueline M.

My name is Jacqueline. I’m 31, part of the upper-middle class, happily married to the love of my life, and I had a second-trimester abortion.

My world turned upside down on February 4, 2019. At my 19.5-week ultrasound, the tech became strangely quiet following several minutes of joking with my husband and me. I thought nothing of it as my eyes obsessed over every inch of my little girl on the screen. The ultrasound complete, I cleaned the cold gel off of my belly and eagerly dressed to go speak with my PA.


“As all of my daydreams about raising a child vanished in an onslaught of medical terminology, my husband and I knew one thing: We could not put our daughter through the brief life of agony that awaited her.”


When she walked in the door, I excitedly gushed my questions and observations, which she answered without the enthusiasm I had come to expect during my appointments with her. When I finally paused, she looked me in the eye and said, “We’ve noticed what looks to be an omphalocele. Your daughter will need surgery the moment she is born to put her intestines back inside of her, but there is a 90 percent survival rate. There is also a 3-inch cyst on your ovaries. It’s so large that we can’t tell whether it’s on one or both, and we need to send you to a high-risk prenatal doctor.”

Sad and afraid, but determined, we went to see the high-risk OB the very next day. I was given a detailed level 2 ultrasound by a tech, and I took in all of the tiny details of my little girl that I wasn’t able to enjoy from the quality of my routine images: her tiny toes, a dainty hand, the small curve in her button nose. I gobbled her up, my daughter, my first child, still completely unaware of how terribly wrong my pregnancy had gone. Continue reading

Reproductive Health-Care Providers Challenge Arizona Laws That Put Women’s Health at Risk

On Thursday, April 11, women’s reproductive health-care providers filed a federal lawsuit seeking to remove Arizona TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that prevent and delay many women from accessing abortion. The lawsuit was filed by reproductive health-care provider Planned Parenthood Arizona and individual clinicians represented by O’Melveny & Myers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Squire Patton Boggs.

Arizona’s extreme, medically unnecessary TRAP laws violate Arizona women’s constitutional right to access legal abortion. Their effect has been dramatic: a 40 percent decline in abortion clinics, leaving 80 percent of Arizona counties with no access to abortion clinics, and weeks-long waiting times for services. There is only one abortion provider in the northern part of the state, and that health center only provides medication abortion one day per week.

“Arizona lawmakers have made it difficult or even impossible for women to access safe, legal abortion,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “Medically unnecessary laws that only serve to attack women’s rights and put women’s health at risk should be overturned to protect women’s health and rights.” Continue reading

Women Fighting for Everyone’s Health

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout the history of medicine, the health of women and children hasn’t always been prioritized. Safeguards might not have been in place to ensure drugs were safe during pregnancy, the right to abortion care has been under attack by both terrorists and lawmakers, and people haven’t had the tools they needed to prevent pregnancy. But throughout that same history, women have confronted these issues head on, creating a better world for everyone and keeping important conversations alive.

Let’s meet some of these incredible historical figures now!

Frances Oldham Kelsey

President Kennedy honors Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey with the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962.

In 1960, Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey was evaluating drug applications for the FDA. When she received an application for a sleeping pill called Kevadon, she was unsettled by scant information on the drug’s safety and demanded additional data, triggering a game of tug-of-war between the pharmaceutical company and the FDA that persisted for more than a year.

In November 1961, Dr. Kelsey was vindicated. Kevadon — aka thalidomide — was discovered to cause severe birth defects. According to the New York Times, children “were born without arms or legs, some with no limbs or with withered appendages protruding directly from the trunk. Some had no external ears or deformities of the eyes, the esophagus or intestinal tracts.” One estimate holds that 20,000 babies were born with deformities, while 80,000 died during pregnancy or shortly after birth. But, thanks to Dr. Kelsey, thalidomide was never approved in the United States.

Frances Kelsey’s career might have been made possible by a misunderstanding. Her graduate advisor at the University of Chicago wasn’t a big booster of women in science, but he hired her after reading her name as Francis and assuming she was a man. Dr. Kelsey always wondered, “if my name had been Elizabeth or Mary Jane, whether I would have gotten that first big step up.” At the time, though, she wondered if she should even accept the offer to join the University of Chicago as a grad student.

“When a woman took a job in those days, she was made to feel as if she was depriving a man of the ability to support his wife and child,” Dr. Kelsey told the New York Times in 2010. Fortunately for an untold number of wives and children — and everyone else — she decided to claim her rightful place at the university, leaving behind an incredible legacy.

Sherri Finkbine

The Finkbines traveling back to Phoenix, en route from London.

Sherri Finkbine was known to thousands of children as Miss Sherri on the local edition of the children’s show Romper Room. But Finkbine entered the spotlight for another reason in 1962, when she learned during her fifth pregnancy that she was at risk of having a child with severe birth defects. Finkbine was using sleeping pills that her husband had brought back from Europe, and the pills, she found out, contained thalidomide. Wishing to warn others about the drug, Finkbine shared her story with a reporter from the Arizona Republic.

Though she had been promised anonymity, her identity was exposed and her story created a media firestorm. Continue reading

The Past Isn’t Always in the Past: Covington Catholic and the Politics of Race and Gender at Southern Private Schools

Nathan Phillips (center) leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March. Image (detail): Joe Flood

It was hard to miss the video that went viral on the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

On January 20, footage of a white high school student, flanked by his classmates as he stood in front of a Native American elder, took the news and social media by storm. The student stood at a close distance, wearing an apparent smirk below his “Make America Great Again” hat. The Native elder stood calmly but firmly, beating a small hand drum and singing over the noise from the student’s classmates, many of whom also sported the iconic red baseball caps of Trump supporters. One classmate appeared to taunt the Native elder with a gesture mocking a “tomahawk chop.”


The March for Life incident is a troubling reminder of a history that links segregated private schools to the anti-abortion movement.


The scene was from Washington, D.C., where students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, were attending the anti-abortion March for Life. It was an event that coincided with an Indigenous Peoples March, a grassroots gathering of community leaders, celebrities, and activists to address the environmental and human rights issues facing Native American, First Nations, and other indigenous people.

The incident drew conflicting narratives as more footage was pieced together to show how Nick Sandmann, the Covington student, came face-to-face with Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder, veteran, and activist. What gained general agreement was that tensions had first been elevated by verbal exchanges with another, smaller group identifying themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites. A few members of that group could be seen subjecting the Covington students to inflammatory language and insults. Thereafter, people have been divided, often along partisan lines, on whether Sandmann or Phillips was the instigator of the face-off. Continue reading