Campus / National / News / October 23, 2008

When abortion was illegal

“Honey, did you think it was easy to be a woman?”

This is what a woman who performed illegal abortions said to a client in “When Abortion was Illegal,” the film Students Against Sexism in Society [SASS] showed Friday at 7 p.m. in the Round Room. The video, which lasted about half an hour, included a brief history of how abortion became illegal in the U.S. and interviews with both historians and several health care officials who had aided women in obtaining illegal abortions.

However, the main focus of the film was on the stories of the women who had obtained abortions when they were illegal in the United States. These women discussed the many negative aspects of their experiences and the stigma still connected with their choice to have an illegal abortion, though one woman also expressed relief at being able to talk about her experiences now, admitting, “Hey, I’m human.”

The film was followed by a half-hour discussion led by NARAL-Pro-Choice America speaker Benita Ulisano. According to their mission statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s aim is to “support and protect, as a fundamental right and value, a woman’s freedom to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices through education, training, organizing, legal action, and public policy.” (See for more information on NARAL Pro-Choice America).

Ulisano explained she had chosen the movie because of a friend who had died during an illegal abortion.

“These women could be your grandmothers or great-grandmothers,” she said of the women in the film.

She then compared the stances of the presidential candidates, saying President Bush, Senator McCain, and Governor Palin had all voiced support for overturning Roe vs. Wade.

“We are in a very scary time for reproductive health,” said Ulisano.

Discussion among the approximately 20 students attending, as well as Ulisano, touched on the right to privacy and what type of late-term abortions are currently illegal among other topics. Ulisano said that many poor or minority women who are unable to afford legal abortions are still getting illegal ones. She also said access to abortion services is still a problem; about 90 percent of the counties in Illinois still do not have a provider.

Ulisano said the best way make individual opinion about abortion heard would be to call one’s senator and convince him or her to sign the REAL Act (Responsible Education About Life), which would fund comprehensive programs of sex education, rather than abstinence-only. In addition, when asked what she most wanted her audience to get out of the discussion, she said, “How important the upcoming election is.”

“I think it went pretty well,” said junior Ashley Atkinson, vice president of SASS, who invited Ulisano to Knox. She said those attending had asked good questions.

However, she also said, “People who already know the issues come. I want the other people.”

Senior Michael Leon expressed frustration at the small number of men who attended.

“It should be just as much a guy’s issue as a girl’s issue. After all, we’re the ones impregnating them,” said Leon.

Rachel Bauer

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