In the spring of 1970, while still in my 20s, I was the only woman on the executive staff of New York City’s Health Services Administration (HSA), which included the departments of Health, Hospitals, Mental Health, and Prisons. Just at this time, through the determined efforts of Assemblywoman Constance Cook, the New York State Legislature was considering a bill to repeal its century-old law criminalizing abortion. I lobbied passionately to convince HSA, and New York City’s Mayor, John Lindsay, to take a strong position in favor of repeal. But whenever I raised the subject, HSA chief Gordon Chase and his top deputy, Jim Haughton, were dismissive, telling me that the agency was busy with important matters like drug treatment and lead poisoning. Besides they told me, “only bad girls get abortions.”
Joyce Antler is the Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture at Brandeis University, where she teaches in the American Studies Department. She is the author of The Journey Home: How Jewish Women Shaped Modern America and the editor of America and I: Short Stories by American Jewish Women Writers and Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture. Professor Antler is a founding member of the board of the Jewish Women’s Archive and chairs its Academic Advisory Council.
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Memo by Joyce (de Terra) Antler reporting on Fordham Hospital abortion procedure when abortion became legal in New York State, July 1970.
Credit: From the personal archive of Joyce Antler.