You may know Norma McCorvey best by her alias, Jane Roe. Historically, McCorvey made a difference by challenging the terrifying aspects of life before her Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion and deemed it a fundamental right.
It started back in 1969, when McCorvey found herself pregnant and alone at the age of 22. While seeking out an abortion in Texas, she realized that it was seen as being illegal. Based on her activism, the Supreme Court decided in 1973 to establish the right for women to seek out a safe abortion.
McCorvey passed away Saturday at the age of 69. And while her own views on abortion had changed throughout her life, she still made such progress for women's health rights.
As you probably are aware, these rights are constantly being challenged on a daily basis. While some seek to once again make abortion illegal, they fail to realize that abortions will, likely, still happen regardless of the law. The only difference is that they'll put the mother at severe risk. Sadly, we have history to back up these claims — since the Roe v. Wade ruling, notably less women have died from the procedure, which is considered one of the safest out there. In comparison, according to the National Abortion Federation, 68,000 women worldwide still pass away annually from unsafe abortions.
Here are a few other facts about how terrifying life was before the Roe v. Wade decision, and why we've got to thank McCorvey for being a pioneer.
1Before Roe v. Wade, Anywhere Between 200,000 to 1.2 Million Illegal Abortions Were Being Performed Per Year
While women today can elect for either a medical or surgical abortion, based on their own health and term of pregnancy, women back in 1950 were desperate enough to reach out to anyone who'd perform an abortion for them. Not only were these conditions often unsanitary (as you've probably heard of the term "back-alley abortion" before) but "doctors" weren't necessarily credited or educated on the procedure.
Back in the 1920s, 15,000 women died from unsafe abortions annually. Women who sought out the procedure put their lives in severe danger, and risked the possibility of lifelong trauma and complications, just to avoid giving birth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013 saw a reported number of 664,435 abortions. Data from 2012 also states that only four women had died while receiving a legal abortion.
2Women Were Sometimes Abused During Illegal Abortions
If they didn't feel vulnerable already, many women reportedly were taken advantage of during their procedure.
The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence reports that between one to five percent of sexual assaults results in an unwanted pregnancy. Upon seeking termination prior to Roe v. Wade, especially in a hurry, women often did what it took to avoid both the embarrassment and fear that a full-term pregnancy would cause for them, ending up in yet another uncomfortable and dangerous situation.
3Women Would Sometimes Use Harmful Substances To End A Pregnancy
Before Roe v. Wade, women actually considered poisoning themselves to rid of an unwanted pregnancy.
4Pregnant Women Would Sometimes Injure Themselves To Try And Bring On A Miscarriage
The topic of miscarriage is often quite emotional — for many women, they occur for no reason. But, part of the reason why the word and the term is so scary, is because prior to Roe v. Wade, some women did try to sabotage their pregnancies by partaking in unsafe activities.
In 2013, a Chilean woman uploaded a video of an "abortion tutorial," as abortions are illegal there. While it was part of a campaign to shed light on their criminalization of health procedures, it still proved a point.
5Some Women Tried "Menstrual Extractions"
This might sound a bit unpleasant, but according to a Cosmopolitan interview with Dr. Curtis Boyd, they definitely happened. Boyd, a gynecologist who is still practicing today, said that prior to Roe v. Wade, women had a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude about the procedure, in which a jar with a tube attached was inserted into a woman's uterus, and everything inside was hand-pumped out. The procedure was originally done for a woman's period, but if a woman didn't admit to taking a pregnancy test before having it done, they could have found a "loophole" in having a pregnancy aborted.
6Many Women Were Hospitalized For Incomplete Abortions
Since many of these procedures were done without doctors or proper medical tools, many women had what was known as an "incomplete abortion," which is pretty self-explanatory. While the pregnancy was no longer viable, the woman was left with elements that made her susceptible to infection and lifelong complications. In fact, the aftermath of an illegal abortion is so terrifying, that proper medical treatment for an incomplete abortion is legal everywhere — it's just that dangerous.
Not only did the Roe v. Wade ruling make abortions accessible, it made them safe — and for that reason alone, its impact can't be overstated enough.