A documentary reminder of the medical and legal risks women who wanted abortions once had to take when abortion was illegal in the U.S. [ When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories credits: Dir: Dorothy Fadiman/ 28 min/ Documentary-Educational/ Reproductive Liberty]
“Firsthand accounts make this a persuasive documentary, and it’s well organized. “
Libertarians are of two minds on the subject of abortion. Fundamentally, the political definition of a libertarian is someone opposed to the initiation of force. So if you define a fetus (at any particular stage of development) as human, then abortion (at that stage) is force and therefore immoral. On the other hand, pregnant women are people too, and the idea of rounding them up and making them carry children they don’t want also sounds a lot like force and is in any case anathema to libertarian ideals and sensibilities.
In the end, most libertarians favor abortion legalization (at least for the earlier stages of fetal development), partly out of a philosophical reluctance to intervene in other people’s lives, especially when right and wrong aren’t all that clear, and partly out of a general optimism that in a free society liberalized adoption procedures and advances in the science of birth control would make abortions less common anyway. This documentary reinforces the inclination to keep abortion legal.
Interviewed here are a series of women who experienced pre-legalization abortions, each in turn telling their particular tale of horror. Some drank toxic substances at the suggestion of amateur abortionists; others inserted devices of various kinds leading to hemorrhaging and infection, often serious; and others had operations by inexperienced hands in seedy hotel rooms. Nurses and doctors interviewed tell of women often dying from back-alley abortions. These are touching stories of desperate women who took dangerous measures in an atmosphere of secrecy and guilt, in some cases just to save their own lives from life-threatening pregnancies.
These firsthand accounts make this a persuasive documentary, and it’s well organized. However it has the feel of a low-budget product, and some of those interviewed are less pitiable than others. Abortion may be morally questionable, but When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories makes a strong case that excess state intervention is worse.