Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What can we learn from today's history?

This is a true story from the Sixties.

Back then, Romper Room was a popular syndicated children's show. "Miss Sherri" (Chessen, then married to Robert Finkbine) hosted the Phoenix franchise. She was popular for her energetic entertainment of her preschool audience. As a working mother, she remained dedicated to her own four children (20 months to 7 years). Yet, she made a personal decision in 1962 for which she was fired and nationally vilified.

That year, exhausted by her fifth pregnancy, Sherri took sleeping pills. They'd been prescribed for her husband while he was chaperoning a student trip in London. The sedative contained thalidomide, a tranquilizer legal in Europe but unapproved by the FDA. Soon after, reports came out associating thalidomide with devastating birth defects, and Sherri consulted her obstetrician. Because she'd taken 30 pills during the early, highly vulnerable period of fetal development, she and her husband made the agonizing decision to elect a therapeutic abortion.

Credit: AZCentral.com
"I take no issue with anyone who went ahead and had the child. They have my love and my empathy. That's what the choice issue is all about."
~ Sherri Chessen

Concerned other pregnant women might unknowingly take the drug, Sherri chose to publicize her tragedy. Though unnamed in the Arizona Republic's front-page article, her identity leaked to the press when hospital administrators sought legal absolution to undertake the still-impending abortion. (At the time, Arizona banned abortions unless the mother's health was endangered.) The judge refused to rule out vulnerability to subsequent lawsuits, and the hospital rescinded approval. Under the frenzy of subsequent nationwide scrutiny and threats, no other US hospital agreed to perform the procedure.

Unwilling to burden their family with the devastating emotional as well as financial strain proper care of a severely disabled child would entail, the couple sought relief abroad. Their continuing three-week ordeal in Stockholm was covered by reporters from 34 countries. Finally, the aborted 12-week fetus was confirmed to have no legs, only one arm, and was too badly deformed for its gender to be identified.
* * *

The tragic episode had many repercussions:  Sherri was fired from Romper Room, her husband suspended from his high school teaching position; their family was hounded by reporters, subjected to intense public condemnation, and harassed with obscene phone calls. When vicious hate mail "threatened to cut off the arms and legs of [Sherri's] children," the FBI was called in. Though the hysteria died down, Sherri recovered from the trauma, and the couple later birthed two more healthy children, the case remained a highly visible touchstone in the quest for reproductive choice.

The sympathy stirred by Sherri's dilemma was pivotal to consolidating public consensus for choice. In the aftermath of Sherri's tragic ordeal, more and more Americans began to support reforming the nation's highly restrictive abortion prohibitions, but it was another decade of women resorting to back steet quacks, coathangers, and chemicals before Roe v Wade began to change the laws.

In the 40 years (today) since the Supreme Court ruled, you'd think a nation founded on priciples of human rights and freedom of choice would have embraced legal protections ensuring reproductive self-determination, but insurance often covers erectile dysfunction more than contraception and legislators continue to introduce bills that limit abortion funding and access, restricting choices for many women today. Sadly, in the half century since Sherri's Choice, too many women still lack reproductive freedom.

If we support the education and contraceptive counseling Planned Parenthood provides, fewer women would have to face the abortive last resort to ensure their own well-being and support of their families. In an era when we have the technology for every baby to be a wanted child, we shouldn't make it hard for women to choose that ideal.

I wonder... what you think.
For more information see coverage from:
 BBC   NY Times   People    PlannedParenthood    Wikipedia  
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