This Pittsburgh psychiatrist risked his reputation to help hundreds receive safe abortions in the ’60s. Now, he doesn’t feel safe talking about it.

(Text illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

by Sophia Levin, PublicSource

Prior to the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973roughly 1 in 4 U.S. pregnancies were aborted. The procedure was illegal in most states without exception.

Pennsylvania, alongside 16 other states, allowed the procedure — sometimes. Women needed permission from doctors, which usually meant permission from men.

In Pittsburgh, one psychiatrist agreed to write letters affirming the pregnancy would impair the patient’s mental health. He debated antiabortion figures on television, was quoted in newspapers and helped hundreds of women to receive safe abortions. 

Today, he wants to remain anonymous. 

“I feel proud of what I did. And I certainly would do it again. But I’m afraid right now — that’s why I want my name not mentioned — because of what’s happening politically,” he told PublicSource. “Back then, antagonism toward me was basically verbal. … Now, it’s death threats, you know, doctors have been killed.”

George Tiller, who worked at one of the nation’s three clinics that provided third-term abortions, was shot and killed in 2009. Three people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood in 2015. Two years ago, abortion clinics made 27 reports of suspicious packages, up from two the year prior. Threats to abortion providers are on the rise.

To know what it would look like to “do it again,” here’s a glimpse into the work the psychiatrist did with the Abortion Justice Association in the decade leading up to the Roe decision. 

The process

If a woman wanted to receive a safe abortion in Pittsburgh prior to Roe, this is the process she could have followed:

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