Last night, I had the honor of meeting Linn Duvall Harwell, the co-founder of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, at an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of that organization. Linn told us stories of marching for women's rights with the National Organization for Women in Pittsburgh and being told that she and fellow marchers "should all be taken out and shot." She also reminded us of an era in which, alongside maternity wards, hospitals had separate wards dedicated to women dying from unsafe abortions. Linn founded the project because her mother, Clara Bell Duvall, died from a botched abortion, leaving behind five young children. Her words (from a speech at the 2004 March for Women's Lives) are so moving that I reprint them here as a reminder, for those of us who've never seen or imagined it, of what a world without safe abortion looked like:
As [my mother] lay dying, she said to my 10-year-old sister, "You will be the mother now." And to my grandmother, "Take care of my precious." This was my 18-month-old sister. Mother died March 27, 1929, in Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA. The archives say death was from "miscarriage." This was a lie. She died from a self-induced knitting needle abortion. She was 34 years old. As we children gathered around the polished casket that held her body for the three-day Irish wake, our father said, "We must stick together now." This was not to be. We were taken to Baltimore, divided among relatives. In a few days, we lost our mother, our father, and each other. I do not remember crying tears, yet I have wept inside all my life.