Opinion | The Supreme Court Takes Us Back … Way Back

Totally understandable, however, that most women earlier in our history would yearn to be homemakers. By the middle of the 19th century the cities were filling up with lower-income women putting in 13 or 14 hours a day on the job. One of them, Hester Vaughn, became a feminist cause. As suffragists told her story, she was raped by her employer in Philadelphia, left pregnant and abandoned in one cold attic room with no food. Eventually she went into labor alone and was found lying on the floor next to her dead baby. She was tried for infanticide and sentenced to be hung, then finally pardoned by the governor. Becoming an excellent example of the need for an abortion option.

Maybe it’s not fair to pin Hester Vaughn’s fate on Clarence Thomas, but we ought to look back at the time he seems to feel was a golden era in reproductive rights. We’re talking about the land before Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruling in 1965 that held, in part, that it was unconstitutional for states to ban the sale of contraceptives.

At the time, anyone convicted of using a birth control device in Connecticut — even a married couple already raising six kids — could be sentenced to up to a year in prison. In one of the very few times the matter ever came up for official debate in the state legislature, The Times reported a motion to change the law was defeated on a voice vote that “took less than a minute.”

When it came to abortion, the whole country was talking about Sherri Finkbine, the host of a children’s TV show in Arizona. She was pregnant with her fifth child in 1962 when she discovered that a sedative her husband had brought back from an overseas trip contained thalidomide, and that she’d taken enough to cause damage to the fetus.

Finkbine scheduled an abortion, but she felt obliged to let the world know how dangerous those sedatives could be. Her attempt to be an anonymous source was a total failure, and when her story became public, the hospital canceled her procedure, the courts refused to give her any support and she lost her job hosting “Romper Room.”

Finally, after a lot of publicity, she succeeded in getting an abortion in Sweden, where the physician who performed the procedure said the fetus was massively deformed. But when she returned home, she discovered she’d been deemed “unfit to work with children” by a local TV station.

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