Media Center: Abortion Before Roe v. Wade

Many of Physicians for Reproductive Health’s founders began their medical careers before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States.  These doctors were forever marked by their experiences treating patients who suffered from botched illegal abortions.  Some risked their freedom to provide safe (albeit illegal) abortions, while others worked within the medical and legislative systems to make abortion legal.  Many doctors’ memories of this time are preserved in our Voices of Choice film and other publications.

What Our Doctors Are Saying

“Ward K on the first floor of the Dulles building had many beds occupied with women who were bleeding or infected from unsafe abortion. Two years after Roe v. Wade, by the time I was a resident, there were no women in ward K who were the victims of unsafe, infected abortion.”
Steven Sondheimer, MD

  • Physicians for Reproductive Health’s short film Voices of Choice documents the experiences of physicians who practiced before the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in the United States
  • One of our founders, William K. Rashbaum, MD, talks about his experiences as a doctor before abortion was legalized
  • In two outtakes from a 2001 interview, George Tiller, MD, talks about his dedication to providing abortion services.


Media Resources:

Remembering Dr. Howard Jones


Dr. Jones’ most recent book, published in 2014

We are saddened to hear of the passing of founding Physicians member and friend, Dr. Howard Jones, at 104. A pioneer in medicine, Dr. Jones’ medical career and contributions to reproductive health care could not have been more varied, influential, or robust. Even late in life, he was a profound reproductive right advocate. Even past the age of 100, Dr. Jones was still publishing books and scholarly works. At 100, he submitted testimony on Physicians’ behalf in opposition to TRAP laws in Virginia. Dr. Jones wrote:

I remember the days before abortion was legal. I saw many patients who had self-induced abortions because at that time there was no legal way to end a pregnancy. I saw women who had become infected and had to be admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where I worked. These patients were often extremely ill and some of them died….This will happen again if legal abortion is not readily available to those who seek it.

Dr. Jones’ contributions to reproductive medicine are incomparable, and we feel privileged to have known him. 

On Roe’s 41st Anniversary, Looking Back

Voices of ChoiceForty one years ago, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. To mark the anniversary today, we share our short documentary, Voices of Choice: Physicians Who Provided Abortions Before Roe v. Wade.

This video features physicians and advocates who helped as many women as they could before the legalization of abortion: Bylle Avery, our board member Dr. Curtis Boyd, Dr. Eugene Glick (1929-2010), Dr. Mildred Hanson, Reverend Howard Moody (1921-2012), Dr. George Tiller (1941-2009), and more.

The suffering they saw moved these men and women to push for safe, legal abortion for anyone who needs that care.  Now more than ever, their experiences inspire us and remind us why we won’t stop fighting until abortion is truly accessible to all across the United States, without needless restrictions that hurt women and their families.

Watch Voices of Choice today. 

Before Roe v. Wade

Forty years ago, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. Some of our physicians witnessed firsthand the horror and tragic consequences of illegal abortion, and the suffering they saw moved these men and women to push for safe, legal abortion for anyone who needs that care. Their experiences inspire us to keep going until abortion is truly accessible throughout the nation, without restrictions that hurt women and their families. We honor their stories by sharing them here: with Voices of Choice, a 24-minute documentary created in 2003, and with profiles of doctors who were involved in abortion care and reform prior to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. 

Remembering Dr. Thomas Allen

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health mourns the death of Thomas Allen, MD, an ob/gyn, abortion provider, outspoken advocate for comprehensive reproductive health care, and PRCH supporter. Dr. Allen, who provided abortions within the hospital system in Pennsylvania beginning in the 1940s, participated in our documentary and multimedia project, Voices of Choice. PRCH celebrates his courage, compassion, and belief in social justice. Thank you, Dr. Allen, for speaking out and helping women. About the Roe v. Wade decision, Dr. Allen said, “The essence of the whole debate is that women should have control over their bodies and their reproductive rights without interference of the state.” Read his account of being a pre-Roe provider here.