Warning: This story includes graphic information about attempted self-abortions and may trigger some individuals.
In 1965, I started working at Planned Parenthood as a Registered Nurse in Des Moines, when abortion was illegal in Iowa and birth control was fairly new to women.
At that time, women prevented or terminated pregnancies by injecting vinegar, bleach or lye into their vaginas. It would severely burn the tissue around and inside their uterus and could cause infertility. Others attempting to self-induce an abortion would accidentally perforate their uterus with wire coat hangers or knitting hooks. Think about how desperate you would have to be to do anything like that to yourself.
Individuals lacked options and awareness about pregnancy prevention, so during my years at Planned Parenthood, our goal was to educate them about birth control options and helped them access the pill. Women were thirsty for information. They couldn’t believe they could control when they became pregnant.
"Women were thirsty for information. They couldn’t believe they could control when they became pregnant."
A group of religious leaders known as the Clergy Consultation Service connected Iowans with access to safe abortion care out of state. I will never forget some of the stories of the people they helped. One was a nun who became involved with a priest and was sent out of state for abortion counseling. Another case involved a severely mentally handicapped 14-year-old girl whose mother discovered she was four months pregnant because the girl’s grandfather was molesting her. Other women just weren’t ready for a family.
Relief from Roe v. Wade was Short Lived
I remember the day I found out about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. It was 9 a.m. and I was in the back of the Iowa Senate Chamber getting ready to introduce a therapeutic abortion bill.
Back then there weren’t computers, internet, or cell phones. We heard about the decision but didn’t immediately know its implications. It wasn’t but two or three days later we learned about the impact on our country. For the first time, people across America—regardless of where they lived—had the constitutional right to access safe and legal abortion.
"For the first time, people across America—regardless of where they lived—had the constitutional right to access safe and legal abortion."
But a different reality hit us in the months following Roe. Anti-abortion activists pressured politicians and health care providers. Many of the doctors who once lobbied for abortion rights found it too risky and controversial to offer the procedure after Roe. And it makes me sad that the stigma still persists today.
Iowa is Headed Backwards
As a former Republican, I believe the government shouldn’t be involved in controlling what happens to women’s bodies. I am angry because we shouldn’t have to keep doing this over and over again. We are headed right back to before Roe. If these anti-abortion politicians in Iowa push through even half of the restrictions they have proposed in recent years, we are going to be in worse shape than before Roe. And Governor Kim Reynolds has made it clear that she supports anti-abortion laws. Iowa is headed backwards.
People talk about abortion as if it’s a criminal or evil. The only thing she wants to do is take care of her family and herself and handle this situation she’s going through. And the only thing she needs is access to safe and compassionate health care. Because in the end that’s what this is about—quality health care.Read more about life in Iowa before Roe v. Wade