My Website

Monday 18 September 2023

Transnational abortion in times of illegality

I was delighted to see that Mexico recently decriminalised abortion, but I also went, wait, haven't I read novels, and maybe memoirs, from a much earlier period, involving women from the USA going across the border to obtain their terminations? I know I have a couple of citations in my Literary Abortion webpage, as well as a link to an article on the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, which helped women travel outside the USA, pre-Roe, to Mexico (also Puerto Rico and Japan), giving referrals for safe though ellegal doctors.

There's also a trope in the earlier twentieth century of women from the UK going abroad to France (Paris in particular was much mentioned) or Switzerland or the Netherlands to obtain abortions, even though the situation was no more legal in those countries. Abortion remained illegal in France until the Manifesto of the 343 called for legalisation of abortion and access to contraception in the early 1970s. There must have been networks of information about sympathetic/competent doctors. In the laters 1930s abortion was legalised in Denmark and Sweden but it would very likely have been more difficult for the foreign visitor to access given the system of bureaucratic panels.

While delving into the novelist Ethel Mannin's letters of the 1930s to her friend and former lover Douglas Goldring I found one, writing from Vienna, in which she mentions her pregnancy (undated, naughty Ethel, but probably early 1930s) and her ambivalence about continuing it, and suggesting she might go to Prague to get it terminated but that would be inconvenient for various reasons (this would not have been actually legal in Czechoslovakia at the period) and then mentioning various UK doctors who might assist her if she returned there. But Ethel was very much in progressive sex reform circles (she had her Grafenberg ring fitted by Grafenberg himself, noting that it was cheaper even with the travel there than what Norman Haire charged in Harley Street).

I'm not sure how one would go about uncovering further details of this phenomenon. Women like the Labour politician Jennie Lee, who apparently horrified Nye Bevan's sister by declaring that if by some accident she fell pregnant she 'knew what to do' had £100 and would 'go to Holland' (where abortion was not legalised until 1984), did not expand on these tantalising hints of secret women's knowledge. Letters? diaries? would this even have been written down, or, if written down, preserved beyond immediate need?

There could have been reasons of discretion for going to distant places where they were not known if they could afford it.

No comments:

Post a Comment