On Feb 27 1970, LIFE magazine featured an article on the subject of abortion. What's interesting about the article is that it gives us a snapshot of what life was like for women before abortion became legal.
The Revolution in Paradise
In 1970, after a little over ten years as a state, Hawaii started a revolution. It became the first state to legalize abortions at the request of the woman. A short time later, New York soon followed, allowing abortions up to the 24th week of the pregnancy.
Prior to that time, Colorado, California, Oregon and North Carolina had abortion laws that allowed for the procedure only in cases of rape, incest "or in which the pregnancy would lead to permanent physical disability of the woman." (Presumably that would include a lethal risk to the mother.)
At a time when, as a LIFE magazine article in that year points out, 20 out of every 100,000 American women died of complications. One of those women, Geraldine "Gerri" Santoro, became a symbol for the pro-choice movement. (A graphic police photo of her body "naked, kneeling, collapsed upon the floor, with a bloody towel between her legs" after a self-administered abortion was published in 1973 and outraged a nation against the abortion laws.)
LIFE magazine article also gives other interesting information about abortion before the reforms. For example, most women who sought abortions were, contrary to conventional wisdom, married. Although the Catholic Church strictly forbade the procedure, more than 20% of the women who had abortions were Roman Catholic. Religious prohibitions did not seem to discourage the procedure. It only made it a shameful and more dangerous act.
Compared to today, the Church back then apparently had a different take on the abortion law. Boston's Archbishop Richard Cushing, was quoted as saying:
Catholics do not need the support of civil law to be faithful to there religious convictions and they do not seek to impose their moral views on other members of society."
Given the controversy that followed, led by Christians and anti-abortion groups, that's a breathtaking statement.