“Choices are the hinges of destiny.” Pythagoras
This is a story of two women, one my mother, Cathy, and one whose name is unknown, so I will call her Mary. Dr. Rosner played a significant role in both of these women’s lives. Cathy’s story is true; however, Mary’s story is mostly speculation.
1975 - Not long after she and Bill decided they were ready to become parents, Cathy felt the changes in her body. Cathy wrote in her journal, “Today is the first confirmed day. About two hours ago the doctor informed me that I’m pregnant.”
1971 - A woman in Chicago discovered that she was pregnant. Mary felt alone and scared, with no idea how she would support a child.
1975 - Bill's sister suggested she see the same doctor that delivered her boys. Dr. Rosner confirmed what Cathy already suspected; On or around February 19, I would be born. Cathy, while excited, felt apprehensive about becoming a mother. In her journal, she wrote, "My general feeling is joy. Associated with it are worry, anticipation, fear, and confusion."
1971 - Mary never experienced joy, only felt fear and worry. She went to Cook County Hospital, where she met Dr. Rosner. Mary told him of her situation, of the pain and suffering she would experience if she carried a child to term. She pleaded for Dr. Rosner to help her. Adoption, he told her, was the only legal course of action. Although he possessed the training and expertise, this was two years before Roe v Wade, and abortion was illegal.
1975 - Cathy mailed letters to her friends and family, telling of the news. Worries plagued her during her pregnancy. Would they have enough money? What kind of mother would she be? What kind of father would Bill be? Would she be a housewife? Could she keep working? She knew one thing for certain, “It’s up to me to nurture this body to the capability of being able to exist in the outside world. I will do my best.”
1971 - Mary was in no way ready to have a child. It doesn't matter why; only she knew what was best for her body, her life. Mary likely hadn’t heard of the Jane network in Chicago. Dylon Jones in Politico.com, says the Jane network, consisting primarily of women, provided thousands of safe yet illegal abortions in the late 60s and early 70s. Their standard rates were $100, but they often performed the service for free. Complications were rare.
1976 - Cathy’s pregnancy passed with few complications. She craved Oreos and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Bill worked nights, and, at four months pregnant, she made the mistake of watching The Exorcist. An avid fan of Stephen King, horror never scared her before. She blamed it on the new hormones coursing through her body, and for the rest of her pregnancy, and maybe longer, she slept with the lights on.
1971 - Mary, living her own nightmare, told Dr. Rosner she planned to travel to Kansas to get an abortion. Most likely she'd found an ad in the paper, as many illegal abortions were advertised this way. They would take her out of state to an abortion clinic for a fee. Most of these "clinics" were dangerous; some were even run by the mob.
1976 - Near the end of her pregnancy, Cathy took the bus, then the subway, to an appointment with Dr. Rosner. Bundled up in an oversized, fuzzy, brown coat, a hand-me-down from her sister-in-law's pregnancy, she stalked into Dr. Rosner's office. Her feet ached because no one would give up their seat to her. The weight of her swollen belly made her back hurt. Despite her misery, Dr. Rosner smiled warmly and said to her, “ Now don’t you look like a big fuzzy teddy bear!” She growled at him and couldn't help but laugh.
1971 - Dr. Rosner probably worried that Mary would be another patient with complications from an illegal abortion. Jones’ interview with Laura Kaplan, a member of the Jane network, explained. “Cook County Hospital, the large public hospital in Chicago, had a ward that was just for women dealing with complications from illegal abortions, and that ward was usually full. So if you talk to anybody who was a GYN at Cook County during those years, they will tell you the horror stories of things they saw and what people did to themselves or had done to them by somebody who was incompetent and didn’t know what they were doing.”
1976 - On February 18, Cathy's contractions wracked her body. Both excited and a little scared, Bill rushed her to the hospital. Unfortunately, Dr. Rosner informed them it was false labor, and Cathy and Bill were sent home. Both parents felt the disappointment, but Cathy felt angry and impatient. Nine months of carrying a baby took a physical and emotional toll, and she couldn't wait, not only to meet me, but to have her body back.
1971 - It is not a far reach to imagine that Mary's decision to pursue an abortion was not easy. She planned to travel 750 miles, commit a felony, and put her life in danger to end this pregnancy. We could speculate many reasons she chose abortion: an abusive husband, rape, or a threat to her life.
1976 - February passed to March, and Cathy wondered if the baby would ever come. Early morning on March 2, in the dining room of their apartment, Cathy’s water broke. Bill helped her into their Pontiac Catalina, and to her dismay, Cathy discovered her water breaking wasn’t complete. She apologized to Bill, but wet seats in his prized car were the least of his worries. Not when he had the two people he prized most on the seat next to him.
1971 - Cook County Hospital, where Dr. Rosner practiced, never turned away a patient. Was Mary a teenager? Was she barely making ends meet, and another child meant sinking deeper into poverty she could not escape? Was she all alone in the world with no support? We will never know why Mary sought an abortion, a deeply personal, very private decision that’s none of our business.
1976 - The pain and pressure of Cathy's contractions began in earnest as she was wheeled into a hospital room. Dr. Rosner checked on her several times, measuring her dilation and ensuring mom and baby stayed safe. Then, as he pulled off his latex gloves after his last check, he broke the news to her. She wasn't dilating fast enough, and he would need to perform a C-section to remove the baby.
1971 - In February of '71, a three-judge federal court overturned the Illinois law prohibiting abortions within the first 90 days of pregnancy. Mary went back to Dr. Rosner to ask if that changed things. It certainly did, and Dr. Rosner performed the first legal abortion in Illinois. Ten days later, the law changed, making abortion illegal once again.
1976 - Cathy's eyes grew wide with fear, but Dr. Rosner comforted her. Although rare in the 70s, he'd performed many c-sections. He promised her he'd be back after lunch to perform the procedure. Today, Cathy laughs about him going to lunch while she lay there in the hospital ready to give birth; she considers it "all in a day's work" for him. At the time, though, she was terrified.
1971 - In an article in Windy City Times, Dr. Rosner’s wife remembered the repercussions after he performed the abortion. "He was threatened. They painted a swastika on his hospital. The opposition called in the middle of the night claiming to be from the butcher's union. I was so proud of him, but it was really scary. I was worried for my children and I was worried for him."
1976 - As they rolled her to the operating room, Dr. Rosner asked Cathy if she had any song requests. She’d heard he piped rock and roll music into his operating rooms, but in her apprehension, she couldn’t think of a single song. That day Dr. Rosner lifted me out of Cathy’s belly. Cathy had complications during her recovery: an infection and a bad case of "the baby blues." Dr. Rosner showed up at her bedside every day, consoling her and giving her the best medical care until she could bring me home several days later.
1995 - Dr. Rosner passed away at 71, but his legacy lives on. At yearly Roe v. Wade events in Illinois, the Dr. Marvin Rosner Lifetime Achievement Award is given to those fighting for women's health and reproductive rights. Dr. Rosner's obituary from the Chicago Tribune says, "Dr. Rosner, 1924-1995, was a leading voice for the expansion of all civil liberties, but was best known as a pioneer in the fight for reproductive rights and performed the first legal abortion in Illinois in 1971.”
I had to use some outside references, and, although I couldn’t find Reedsy specific rules about it, I still want to give credit where credit is due:
Blickensderfer, Gretchen Rachel. “Planned Parenthood, Civic Leaders Mark 40 Years of Roe v. Wade - Windy City Times News.” Windy City Times, Windy City Times, January 24 2014, https://www.windycitytimes.com/m/APPredirect.php?AID=45980.
Goldstein, Jessica M., et al. “Inside the 1970s Abortion Underground.” POLITICO, May 6 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/06/jane-abortion-network-chicago-00030433.
Heise, Kenan, and Tribune Staff Writer. “Marvin Rosner, Physician and Local Activist.” Chicago Tribune, August 19 2021, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1995-10-17-9510170006-story.html.
Maharry, Mary Jane. "Planned Parenthood Illinois Action Exceeds Fundraising Expectations at the 47th Roe V Wade Event January 23." Daily Herald, Daily Herald, February 3 2020, https://www.dailyherald.com/submitted/20200131/planned-parenthood-illinois-action-exceeds-fundraising-expectations-at-the-47th--roe-v-wade-event-jan-23.
“Planned Parenthood® Action Center.” Planned Parenthood Action Center Blog, Planned Parenthood, January 14 2014, http://plannedparenthoodillinoisaction.blogspot.com/2014/01/join-ppia-to-honor-senator-dick-durbin.html.