NL 2008/11

Bestselling author Michael Crichton promoted a woman's right to abortion

"Our laws ... are hazy, ill-defined, and absurdly strict"

"I thought about the amateur abortions I'd seen as an intern, when the girls came in bleeding and foaming at three in the morning", recently deceased American author Michael Crichton wrote in one of his first books: "A Case of Need", published in 1968 under the pseudonym "Jeffery Hudson". He continued: "I thought about the sweats I'd had in college. Once with Betty, we sat around for six weeks waiting for her period. I knew perfectly well that anybody can get pregnant by accident."

In fact Crichton knew quite well the topic he was writing on, since he was a medical doctor himself: After earning his B.A. at Harvard College in 1964, he obtained his Doctor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1969. Subsequently, he worked with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.

In his writing, he turned against American society's double moral standards banning abortion but thus only punishing the poor: "Our laws relating to abortion are hazy, ill-defined, and absurdly strict…. (People) know it isn't a long, tedious, dangerous operation. They know it's simple and they want personal happiness it can give them. They demand it. And one way or another they get it. If they're rich, they go to Japan or Puerto Rico; if they're poor, they go to the Marine orderly. But one way or another, they get that abortion."

Crichton doubted that this situation would change quickly: "But I must remind you that the doctors are much more strict than the law itself. The abortion committees in hospitals are overcautious. They refuse to perform abortions under circumstances where the law would never intervene. In my opinion, before you can change the abortion laws, you must change the prevailing climate of medical opinion."

At first liberalised, then constricted tighter and tighter

Actually, liberalisation of the American legal situation took place soon. One kick-off was lawyer George Michaels' (1912-1992) spectacular decision, who represented a conservative Catholic constituency. In 1970, when New York State had to decide about liberalisation of on-demand abortions during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, Michaels first voted "No". In the face of a tie, realising it would be his single voice whether the bill would be accepted or repelled, he withdrew his vote and changed his "No" into "Yes" – thus crashing his own political career.

Soon after, on January 22, 1973, US Supreme Court's landmark decision in Roe v. Wade case stated that most laws against abortion in the United States violated a constitutional right to privacy. Thus Roe v. Wade centrally held that a woman may abort her pregnancy for any reason, up until the "point at which the fetus becomes 'viable.'"

In ongoing "salami slicing" over the last 35 years, fanatics more and more constricted this landmark 1973 decision. To get an abortion, women in the USA must currently undergo long-distance journeys and surmount unbelievable administrative barriers. G.W. Bush's government has starved most of the institutions that would have provided state-of-the-art-abortions. Many abortion providers faced death threats from so called life protectors and found their clinics burned down.

On the contrary, President elect Barack Obama supports the "Pro Choice"-movement, which grants woman's right to decide her own future. In January 2008, he said about abortion: "Ultimately, women are in the best position to make a decision at the end of the day about these issues. With significant constraints. Those are issues that I don't think the government can unilaterally make a decision about."

Finally listen to Crichton again: "Karen Randall was brought to the Mem EW (Memorial-Hospital) at four this morning. She was bleeding profusely – exsanguinating actually – and was in a state of hemorrhagic shock when she arrived. I don't know what treatment they gave her, but anyway she died."

Come and learn about past and present pioneers of family planning in Vienna's Museum of Contraception and Abortion. Wednesday through Sunday 14 -18 h. Mariahilfer Guertel 37, A-1150 Wien (Austria)