We didn't plan to make this a special edition about abortion rights.
Two weeks ago, I was editing our scheduled feature on an environmental topic. With that out of the way, I expected to spend the week before publication concentrating on news articles, pursing several intriguing stories. But then PBS aired its Frontline documentary on John Salvi. Because I had read an early version of Chip Berlet's article, I knew that the film didn't tell the whole story. And then when President Clinton signed the Telecom Bill on February 8th, I discovered that the chilling section limiting free speech about abortion on the Internet was still included, and now law.
And I began to think of some of the other bits and pieces about abortion issues that I knew about. As I wrote in my last editorial, connections were made. There was a bigger picture here than a lone gunman or a segment of blatantly unconstitutional law. As I learned in the following days, I only discovered something that the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and others had known about for ages: There was a concentrated effort, in both the legislatures and in the streets, to enforce morality and destroy abortion rights.
Out went the environmental feature. (It will appear in our next issue.) Out went several planned news stories. Calls were urgently made to Berlet, Skipp Porteous, and others who I knew covered the topic. By luck, both Porteous and Berlet were finishing articles that filled in important parts of the puzzle. And through another writer I met Annie Bower, whose hair-raising piece on Shelley Shannon is probably the best thing here.
By no means is this the complete story on this topic -- that would require a book, maybe several. What you'll find here is a snapshot in time, focused mainly on events that took place in late January. Our apologies in advance for the many, many omissions. Still, at about 22.000 words, we think it provides a reasonably adequate portrait.
Although the Frontline documentary and the Telecom bill were important considerations, they weren't the driving force that made me tear up plans at the last minute. It was memories of a friend that I haven't thought of for decades: Kathleen "Kitty" Cannon.
Kitty was a year ahead of me in high school. Our paths crossed in many ways; she preceeded me as editorial page editor on the school newspaper, and was also best pals with my girlfriend. When I moved to Boston, she popped in and out of our house, living with us for weeks at a time.
For a while she was a volunteer for a woman's group in New York City. Because she spoke a smidgen of high school Spanish, Kitty's main job was to help Latina and Black women with emergency medical services. And because this was during the late '60's when abortion was illegal, most of the women needed help because of botched abortions.
I don't remember her ever mentioning abortions done in alleyways, but I do recall that coathangers were actually used. And because these women had committed a crime by seeking an abortion, they often waited until they were perched on the edge of death before seeking help.
Only family members could ride in ambulances with the person ill, and Kitty -- with her light freckled skin and pug Irish nose -- had to convince the paramedics that she was the woman's sister. By the end of her stint with the group, she had ridden in enough ambulances that the paramedics no longer bothered to ask who she was.
More than a few of the women who Kitty accompanied to the hospital died, I remember her saying. Likely most of those who survived were left sterile, or with long-term medical conditions.
Kitty died about twenty years ago, in a freak accident in Europe. For those two decades, I had forgotten about her ambulance stories. But as I worked on this series, again I heard her voice as she joked about her response to paramedic and police questioning: "Yes, I'm her sister; no, I don't know her name."
Like most Americans, I have mixed personal feelings about abortion. But despite what zealous opponents believe, abortion is always a soul-searching decision. That decision is best left to the person it affects most -- the woman pregnant. Leave that alone; promote your causes elsewhere.
To think that we risk going back to those pre-Roe vs. Wade days makes me shudder. Kitty's voice haunts me, and her words bear repeating: "Yes, I'm her sister; no, I don't know her name."
It's inappropriate to dedicate an issue of a newspaper to anyone; the news should stand by itself, alone and objective. This time, I'm making an exception. This edition is dedicated to you, Kitty, wherever you may be.
Our next issue appears in early March; hope to see you then.
Jeff Elliott, Editor