FORMERLY PHYSICIANS FOR REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE AND HEALTH

Curtis Boyd, MD

Curtis Boyd, MD, is currently in private practice, specializing in abortion services. During the 1960s, Dr. Boyd provided thousands of illegal abortions to women at his office in Athens, Texas, and later in Dallas. In the field of abortion technology, Dr. Boyd has a national reputation for his contributions in the areas of pain management, reduction of surgical risks, second-trimester abortion methods, and the establishment of guidelines and standards for abortion facilities.

I thought the law needed to be changed, the service needed to be provided, and I was going to do it understanding the risk that I was taking, which may have included going to prison. That’s the way a social activist needs to think. Deciding to disobey a law is not something you take lightly.

The reason I did the work was what it meant to women. To have a child and not be married in a traditional community was difficult. Or to have a child that wasn’t your husband’s could be a very difficult situation. To be a woman fortunate enough to have gotten to a university and be pregnant and know that if you had this child, you were going to have to drop out of university and you might never get that college degree. These were strangers, women I’d never seen before and I’d never see again, and they were treated with respect, with dignity.

A young Indian woman, a Sioux, came to see me. She was from the Dakotas, and was at the University of Chicago, where she had gotten a scholarship. She was the first member of her family to ever go to a university. She rode a bus from Chicago to Athens, Texas, to get an abortion.

Another woman came from Austin, Texas, a Mexican-American woman who spoke no English. She had a large number of children; she was in her late 40s. In that day, there was no Spanish-speaking person in Henderson County, nor any of the surrounding counties. She came on the bus, and she got there after we were closed. She showed up at the office the next day and I found out that she had slept in the hospital restroom. She knew the hospital was open all night, and she hid back in the stall in the restroom, laid down and took a nap. There was a toilet and a wash basin. So that was her hotel room.

Women were desperate not to be pregnant. And then to walk out alive and intact when they’d come from great distances. They didn’t know me. These were strangers, women I’d never seen before and I’d never see again, and they were treated with respect, with dignity. They didn’t have much pain, and they were alive and going to get up off the table and walk out. They were just so filled with gratitude and expressive with their feelings. That’s a powerful motivating factor.

When a woman acts in a responsible way, doing what she believes is in her best interest and the best interest of her family, she’s being moral. This is a moral decision, and I believe in that. Even today they walk in my office and they think that what they’re doing is wrong and that they’re a bad person for doing it. And that’s really sad because what they’re often doing is showing a higher level of moral development than probably most anyone else.

There was a clergy consultation group and it was headquartered in Dallas and then they began to contact other ministers who might want to join. It ended up having Methodist, Episcopal, Christian, Unitarian and Jewish leaders.

My office was checked out and monitored by the clergy group. They also did follow-up on patients and monitored complication rates. They talked with patients about how they were treated. We wanted it to be accessible and we even had loan funds, and we did women with no charge when the ministers determined that they were unable to pay.

The minister would try and find out how long they had been pregnant and the circumstances of the pregnancy. Were there any problems they needed to talk about? The feelings, the meanings, they would deal with those. Then they would tell the women about me, who I was, what they knew about me and my reputation and reassure them that this was safe and legitimate. And they would emphasize the need for confidentiality. Then the clergy would call and make an appointment and give them information and directions. They would have a date and a time to come. Somehow they would get to Athens, Texas.

In those days, the big fear was someone would either file charges against me or I would have some major complication or patient death. I knew that every patient I saw had the potential to not only take my medical license, but to put me in prison.

People thought I was dealing drugs because there were so many of these young people coming from college and university campuses. They came in their Volkswagens with their long hair. Some got through without being noticed because they were more straight looking, but many were noticed, and they were coming in great numbers. They knew something was going on, because all these people were coming and many of them had out-of-county license tags. Was I supplying them with some sort of drugs? Fewer suspected that the people were coming for abortions.

There were never any charges filed because I was not dealing drugs. And fortunately no woman ever told why she was coming to see me or filed any complaint with the police. But they did keep me under surveillance. I’d see them parked down the street. They’d just sit there watching.

It’s work that I’m very proud of. I have never experienced a greater level of gratitude from patients or the feeling that I made a real difference in their life, and really in the life of our society. So the work has been satisfying. It’s never ceased to feel rewarding and to feel that I’m doing something good and something important.

—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice