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May 2024

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Fight For Your Rights… Or Lose Them
Featured Article

Fight For Your Rights… Or Lose Them

Paul Krassner, longtime satirist and activist, recounts the history of abortion in his lifetime—from illegal to legal to the deterioration of a woman’s reproductive rights today. He details the past, when he ran an underground abortion referral service, and warns of a dangerous future…  

When abortions were illegal in America, women had no choice but to seek out back-alley butchers for what should have been a medical procedure in a sterile environment. If there was a botched surgery and the victim went to a hospital, the police were called, and they wouldn’t allow the doctor to provide a painkiller until the patient gave them the information they sought.

In 1962 an article in Look magazine stated, “There is no such thing as a ‘good’ abortionist. All of them are in business strictly for money.” But in an issue of my own magazine, The Realist, that same year, I published an anonymous interview with the late Dr. Robert Spencer, a truly humane abortionist, promising that I would go to prison sooner than reveal his identity.

He had served as an Army doctor in World War I, then became a pathologist at a hospital in Ashland, Pennsylvania. At a time when 5,000 women were killed each year by criminal abortionists who charged as much as $1,500, his reputation had spread by word of mouth, and he was known as The Saint. Patients came to his clinic in Ashland from around the country.

I took the five-hour bus trip from New York to Ashland with my gigantic Webcor tape recorder. Dr. Spencer was the cheerful personification of an old-fashioned physician. He wore a red beret and used folksy expressions like “by golly.” He had been performing abortions for 40 years. He started out charging $5 and never asked for more than $100. He rarely used the word pregnant. Rather, he would say, “She was that way, and she came to me for help.”

Ashland was a small town, and Dr. Spencer’s work was not merely tolerated; the community depended on it—the hotel, the restaurant, the dress shop—all thrived on the extra business that came from his out-of-town patients. He built facilities at his clinic for African-American patients who weren’t allowed to obtain overnight lodgings elsewhere. The walls of his office were decorated with those little wooden signs that tourists like to buy. A sign on the ceiling over his operating table said, “Keep Calm.”

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