Santorum’s War on Women

Today’s post is by guest blogger Torie.

“No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche.  She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”  – Frederica Mathewes-Green

Having been born well after Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird and Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court decisions which affirmed a Constitutional right to privacy, permitted unmarried women to obtain contraceptives and legalized abortion, I have no first hand knowledge of what life was like for women before these rulings. Sure, I knew that women once used Lysol as birth control and knitting needles for self-induced abortions, but I somehow viewed these as aberrations. I had no appreciation for the immense suffering and desperation women and their families faced during that time, until Rick Santorum’s rise in the Republican primaries and his increasing misogyny.

I had always dismissed Santorum as a serious candidate. I thought given his extreme views on science, homosexuality and women that his campaign would have crashed and burned months ago. I never thought the rights women literally died for would ever truly be taken away. Yes, anti-choice candidates and politicians might propose legislation that would infringe upon those rights, but I could not imagine those rights ceasing to exist. I had to learn about life for women before Griswold and Roe. I needed to understand what life could become for me and the millions of other women should Santorum ever make to the Oval Office.

Below is an excerpt from the book “The Worst of Times” and a graphic description of life before Roe.

I graduated from medical school in 1954. During my medical training, I saw women being treated for septic abortion, and as a resident I took care of lots of them. I have no idea what the real abortion numbers were in those days, but I’m pretty sure we just saw and identified as “abortion patients” the tip of the iceberg–women where something went wrong and they had no private doctor. I suspect that no more than one in five abortions was actually listed as an abortion, maybe even less.

The women on the wards were generally more seriously ill than the private patients. Now, that may be due to their generally inferior health status. They didn’t have the advantages of good nutrition and hygiene. They didn’t get regular health care or any kind of maintenance care. They also tended to be black, and the private patients tended to be white, but this was probably typical of the times. However, it didn’t mean that white women got better abortions. They all got lousy abortions.

The technique of the criminal abortionist wasn’t limited to a catheter or coat hanger. Many of them injected some kind of caustic substance–bleach or something like that–into the uterus. The uterus would contract to get rid of the irritant, but there was a high risk of complications.

Potassium permanganate [a dark purple salt] was another common choice. The abortionist dissolved some of the crystals in water and inserted the solution into the uterus through a syringe or catheter. On the street, women heard that potassium permanganate would work, but they didn’t get all the details of how to use it, and we would see women who would just insert the crystals into the vagina.

By the time these women got to the hospital, they would have terrible burns or even actual holes in the vaginal lining, because the crystals had simply eaten away the tissue. The irony is that placed in the vagina, potassium permanganate didn’t abort the pregnancy, but it sure did a lot of damage to the vagina.

The complications we typically saw on the ward were severe pelvic inflammation and infection, with pelvic abscesses which had to be drained. Many women got an ilius, or shutdown of their intestines. They had to have a nasal-gastic tube so we could just keep their intestines quiet until they started to function again.

They would also get a generalized peritonitis. Some patients died of “uremia”–at least that’s what would be written on the death certificate again leading statisticians to miss the abortion connection. Uremia is an extremely severe infection with septic shock and kidney shutdown.

Hemorrhage was sometimes a complication, although often these women died at the time of the abortion, before they ever got to a hospital. With a perforation in certain parts of the uterus, where the blood supply is concentrated, it would take only a few hours–a day at most–for the woman to bleed to death. If it isn’t that part of the uterus, perforation could take several days to cause death.

With illegal abortion, there were lots of ways to die. The lucky ones made it through. The not-so-lucky ones died fairly horrible deaths.

In the 1950s and early ’60s, in spite of that always-full hospital ward, no one talked about abortion as a public health problem. It was just a fact of life, and you dealt with it the best way you could–taking care of the complications. It was the women’s rights movement and not public health concerns that made abortion legal.

I remember that when I first went into private practice in 1961, if a woman wanted her tubes tied, she had to get her husband’s written permission. I thought that was way out of line. Her body didn’t belong to her husband! Besides, she didn’t have to sign for his vasectomy. But that’s how it was.

For as long as I can remember, I have been in favor of making abortion legal, because I always thought that a woman ought to have the right to control her body.

Overturning Roe, banning contraception will not stop women from seeking abortions and birth control. A woman will do whatever she feels she has to do to exercise control over her body, no matter the consequences. Reversing Roe is in no way pro-life. It will not save women and babies. It certainly will not change our country for the better. In fact, without access to safe and legal abortions, more women will die. Their spouses will be left alone. Their children will be left motherless. Their parents will be left without their daughters. This circle of tragedy will continue to expand as our society loses parts of itself.


21 thoughts on “Santorum’s War on Women

Add yours

  1. Malia, I’d never heard of Gerri, or seen that picture before. And eating lunch while reading your blog was interesting today. But I thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this essay by Torie, I think everyone needs to read this, and feel it viscerally before they can understand.

    Thank you.


  2. Thank you for this article. It needs to be repeated everywhere because people have forgotten. I remember hearing about the deaths when I was growing up. I didn’t really understand until I had a woman I admired tell me in all seriousness that if she got pregnant again, she would kill herself. I was in my early 20s, and was truly shocked. She did me a great favor because I took her seriously; I believed her. Because of that experience, I’ve paid attention to the issue for 40 years. A safe abortion must, must continue to be available. We cannot judge another woman/ girl’s situation. A pregnant 11/12 year old has no good answers. A mother of several children cannot give the baby up for adoption; it destroys the other children’s sense of security. So again, I thank you for making us face the horror of illegal abortion,.


  3. Thank you for posting this article. My fear is that young women today don’t realize what the ‘pro life’ movement wants to take us back to. This powerful essay might give them an idea. I turned 18 in 1974. When I became sexually active, I went to Planned Parenthood for the pill. While abortion was legal, I never wanted to be in the position of needing to make that choice (or having to tell my parents I was pregnant out of wedlock!!!). This article clearly illustrates what will happen if our right to make a choice is taken away.


  4. Malia, thank you so much for posting this. It resonates on so many levels. I remember when I was in nursing school, the school doctor gave me birth control pills – and told me that if I missed a period, he would just do a D&C for “irregular periods.” I doubt that I’d have taken him up – but I appreciated the choice that I was given. At the time abortions were all illegal. Only from docs who were willing to mis-represent the need for a D&C could women get a safe abortion. I’m Catholic as is Santorum – but I disagree with him on so many points. I’ve more and more been seeing his campaign as a war on women by a misogynist. Perry & Bachman were bad enough. If Santorum gets the nomination, hopefully the Democrats will burn the airwaves up driving home his views on women. Thanks again for posting this!!!


  5. I was born and raised a Catholic but made the decision to leave the church last year.

    I am old enough and come of age in the early 70’s.
    I used Planned parenthood for birth control when I became sexually active.
    I lived with my husband before we were married and went to a GYN that actually asked if I was married or engaged before he would write me a script for the pill.

    Good God, I never thought we’d be fighting this battle again. And make no mistake this is a battle. The likes of rich santorum are on a holy crusade and their is nothing more dangerous then a right wing holy roller on a crusade!!!!

    Women need to become political on this issue. This is a fight to control our own bodies and our futures. Do you think they will stop at abortion, birth control? Next will be our rights to work and education.

    Please at least contact your representatives in Congress and support the POTUS in this decision.
    Websites you should always keep handy

    I am serious ladies. We do not want to have our rights taken away from us!


  6. Thank you. All American women have to sit back NOW and think about what the religious right-wing politicians are trying to do. It is extremely frightening. On the one hand they rage about Sharia law and no the other hand they lead us right into it – only their version of it.

    In my opinion, no man should be allowed to address or offer legislation or rule in a courtroom on the issue of abortion. I think that it is caused by men – men who will not own up to their responsibility for unwanted pregnancies, who walk away from girlfriends or wives who just happen to get pregnant, who seduce silly teen-aged girls with bogus promises that they cannot get pregnant the first time, men who have fought against universal health care, decent social welfare programs, decent job creation programs, school lunch programs, Sesame Street (for God’s sake), etc.

    Girls deserve good sex education so that they know what they may be letting themselves in for before they are emotionally, financially or intellectually ready. Their mothers need to battle for it.

    In the meantime, men in Congress should not be allowed to redefine rape in order to fudge the law as it presently exists. They should not be allowed to vote on issues that they have no possible way of understanding.

    I simply cannot imagine any adult American, male or female, voting for Rick Santorum, the candidate who is so focused on sex that he cannot utter a sentence without some reference to it. Do any Americans really want this lunatic in power in the country, in any political office?


  7. What happened to the rest of the post? This was such a great article, I was sending it to some friends of mine but when I looked at it again part of it was missing.

    Please restore the stuff about Gerri. I think that was really important.


  8. There is a news clip of frothy mixture talking about women being on the front lines of combat. Santorum thinks women are to emotional to be on the front lines. Ha! They are on the front lines doing police and fire work and still able to keep it under control. Women cops have also shot suspects. His thought process is antiquated, middle ages, and sexist. How does his wife justify his comments given her past with an abortion doctor? Seems hypocritical to me.


  9. Malia ~
    This is serious stuff: the loony fringe of the GOP/TP is trying to shape national policy based on their misogynist beliefs. Apparently these men all believe that women are incapable of making decisions that THEY (and God, who gets pulled into all their discourse) know better about.

    You will appreciate today’s blog entry by Margaret and Helen on abortion, birth control and homophobia (the third leg of the TP social-agenda stool):


  10. this guy is not a serious candidate.
    what your seeing is exactly what you saw with the newt vote.
    the right wingers hate the mormon guy and this is what you get.
    lol..a large part of this country is just plain insane


  11. Great post, Malia! While Santorum likes to talk about social issues more than the other candidates, we need to remember that ALL GOP candidates share his positions. This can be used to advantage if the Democratic Party insists on aggressively making this a critical issue for all state and federal elections in 2012.


  12. Here’s a snapshot of the “Christian Family Values” crowd attending CPAC – while they are taking away our rights to be normal human beings on “moral” grounds against women’s reproductive rights, gays, even sex between a man and wife is “immoral”, remember, they want to legislate these “morals” and “values” based on biblical law – yet, some of these Commonsense Conservatives and their supporters – well, take a look at what they are really doing:

    Just like the Palin, Mrs. Santorum, Gingrich, any of em, all of em – do as I tell you, Not as I do. I get to eff anyone I want, cause I’m a Christian Conservative – BUT, YOU can’t even have sex with your spouse – unless we see a baby popping out soon! And Gay Sex is an Abomination! Hahahaha!
    Someone posted this on IM, couldn’t resist!


  13. Oh dear lord…I will do much to ensure that my daughter never has to endure an illegal abortion….Rick Santorums children have my sympathy…


  14. Bill Maher and his guests ripped Santorum and the Republicans Friday night. They showed how the GOP is diverting attention from the real issues, job and the economy, and attacking women’s rights. They are against big government but want to monitor what goes on in your bedroom. The best comment of the night: I don’t know why they’re against birth control. It prevents abortions. I think it came from Rev. Al Sharpton


  15. Santorums wife looks so miserable. My question is this? Does religious organizations provide viagra? rubbers? prostate exams? psa testings? male hormones? testicle checks? Well then? We must stop all funding. Anything that prevents a pregnancy must be ban and all male check ups must be ban. And when an unwanted child is born? Immediately ID the father and he must support mother and child for 30yrs. Anything that stops a pregnancy……rubbers, anal sex, head, is a crime. Lets all listen carefully to the moronic rapture queen of ignorance today on her birthday, ms sara heath palin will speak nonsense again today.


  16. Rick Santorum is just the latest not-Romney flavor of the moment. He is unabashed about the fact that his policies would set women’s reproductive rights back by more than 50 years, and other than his regressive and perverted views on human sexuality–especially women’s–he has nothing to offer than the GOP’s stale, discredited economic ideas served up with a dose of anti-Obama hatred. He is the poster child for the kind of “big government” that is popular with the rabid right–no government intervention to help the most vulnerable Americans or to protect from corporate exploitation but plenty when it comes to intruding into the sex lives of Americans.


  17. AS a Lab. Tech during the 50’s. I was responsible for getting blood ready for the Women who had tried to abort them selves. Many pints till finally the bleeding may stop. Not pleasent to see. or work on and always, the Women were in distress,very sad to see.


  18. Pro-choice and anti-choice. Let’s call it accurately. Because no one is pro-abortion. Or anti-life.

    But even when anti-choice prevails, women find a way to do what is right–in their opinion, for themselves and their families–as Torie’s post recounts. I remember the 1960s. A woman with means would have multiple avenues to abort, none of them easy. A woman without means is like the trapped animal gnawing off its leg. Very apt quote.

    It is essential that a pro-choice stance prevail, and judging by the Komen/PP response we seem safe. The Repugs can’t possibly win elections with such positions. I mean FAIR elections.

    However. I fear the Diebold shenanigans that cost Gore his election. I fear the Supreme Court that did not prevent it. I fear the avalanche of money that will repeat blatant lies (see the Palin CPAC speech). I fear dirty tricks like the PalinPregnancyHoax, which remains unacknowledged in the MSM, thus emboldening additional travesties that no one seems likely to expose. Esp scary now that Palin seems back at work “energizing the base.”


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