Most Americans are too young to remember what it was like before women had access to safe, legal abortions.

But Julia Kahrl does.

The 81-year-old Arrowsic grandmother remembers hearing from her brother, a young doctor, about two young mothers he treated who died from infections that had come from illegal abortions.

And her husband, a professor at Ohio State University, told her about getting this excuse from a distracted student:

“He said, ‘Professor, my girlfriend bled to death in our bed Saturday night as a result of an abortion.’ ” That was in 1971, just two years before the Supreme Court made the procedure legal in all 50 states.

Kahrl told those stories at a rally in support of Planned Parenthood, the embattled women’s health provider, which has become the focus of a coordinated attack by anti-abortion activists and their allies in Congress who want to paint the organization as a business that destroys lives, and not one that saves them.


If you listen to the opponents, you would think that fight was about a corrupt use of federal money or the illegal buying and selling of fetal tissue between abortion providers and medical researchers. But it’s not.

Those are manufactured scandals.

This battle is about whether a woman should have access to a safe, legal abortion. What the opponents don’t say is that they are attacking Planned Parenthood to bring the country back to the days when it was a crime for a woman to decide not to go through with an unplanned pregnancy, and anyone who broke that law took her life in her hands.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, doesn’t remember those days. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee who badgered Planned Parenthood director Cecile Richards in Washington on Tuesday while the rally was going on in Portland. He was 6 years old when Roe v. Wade was passed. This is all he’s ever known.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wouldn’t remember those days either. At 44, he was only a year old when Roe v. Wade was passed. Now he is hoping that his plan to shut down the U.S. government to leverage an end to government funding for medical services (not including abortion) at Planned Parenthood clinics will land him in the White House.

And certainly the 26-year-old filmmaker David Daleiden, whose undercover videos are the pretext for the latest assault on the organization, was not around then. He edited the films to create the debunked notion that there is an alliance between medical researchers and Planned Parenthood clinics to increase the number of abortions for profit.


Here’s what they missed from the days before Roe:

Just because abortion was illegal didn’t mean that women didn’t need them.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, illegal abortions were common, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 1.2 million a year.

They were also dangerous. Abortion was listed as the cause of death for hundreds of women every year, right into the 1970s. The majority of women who seek abortions already have children so many deaths left a devastated family. Now a fatal abortion complication is a rarity.

Poor women were especially affected. They could not afford to travel to a state where abortion was legal or fly to Europe, so they were more likely to seek out illegal abortions. According to one study of low-income women in New York City in the 1960s, nearly one in 10 said they had sought an illegal abortion.

Cruz and the others act as if ending legal abortion would end abortion.


Women like Julia Kahrl know that’s not what would happen.

“Women will find another way,” she said. “The abortion rate of women in countries where it is legal and countries where it is not are the same.”

Planned Parenthood is the focus of this attack not just because it provides health services including abortion, but because it advocates for women who want to be the ultimate decision maker over questions of their own fertility.

They raise a lot of money and they spend it on political campaigns, supporting candidates who share their point of view, who these days tend to be Democrats. This makes the organization a target for Republicans who want the organization on the sidelines as we approach an election year.

That’s how politics works these days, but it’s important to hear from grandmothers that this is not just another political issue. Kahrl said she heard from women after delivering her speech in Monument Square on Tuesday who are afraid of going back to those dark days before abortion was legal. She was glad to see that it wasn’t just the older people who understand the risk.

“It was really nice to see so many young women out there today” she said. “They know what’s at stake.”


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