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The Abortion Underground

The Abortion Underground

Update: 2019-05-2348


Before Roe v. Wade, there were thousands of illegal abortions in the U.S. every year. Some of these were incredibly dangerous; women would use knitting needles or coat hangers to end pregnancies. This, and other illegal methods, could lead to injury or death. In the 1970s, one group of women got fed up and decided to take women's health into their own hands. We talk to “self-helpers” Carol Downer and Francie Hornstein, who led a movement for safe abortions and education for women by women.

Check out the full transcript here:

Selected references: “Back alley” abortions before Roe v. Wade (See chapter 3) study documenting the techniques used for illegal abortions in the 60s Woman's Book of Choices by Dr. Rebecca Chalker (PhD) and Carol Downer

This episode was produced by Wendy Zukerman, with help from Meryl Horn, Rose Rimler, and Michelle Dang. Our senior producer is Kaitlyn Sawrey. We’re edited by Blythe Terrell. Editing help from Caitlin Kenney, Kaitlyn Sawrey, Sruthi Pinnemanni, Jorge Just, Lulu Miller and Chris Neary. Fact checking by Diane Kelly. Mix and sound design by Peter Leonard. Music by Peter Leonard, Emma Munger and Bobby Lord. Recording assistance from Anny Celsi. A huge thanks to all the scientists we got in touch with for this episode, including Dr Sara Matthiesen, Professor Verta Taylor, Professor John DeLancey, Professor Carole Joffe, Professor Johanna Schoen, and Dr. Denise Copelton. And special thanks to Michele Welsing and the team at Southern California Library, Dr Becky Chalker, Jonathon Roberts, Jim Aspholm, Odelia Rubin, Alice Kors, the Zukerman family, and Joseph Lavelle Wilson.

Women's Liberation Day: New York, San Francisco and Berkeley rallies of August 26, 1970 was used courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives.

Comments (11)

damian ferr

"for some people a fetus is a human" woow..!! what is it, for those who think otherwise?

Aug 26th

Megan Conlon

This is such a wonderful episode - it's my first with this podcast, and I'm really looking forward to listening to more episodes! Thank you so much for doing this, it's incredibly important for women to have representation and information, and this episode truly highlights how transformative the latter can be in demystifying our bodies, dispelling myths, and encouraging support and self care. Thank you again!

Aug 24th


This is a really excellent podcast! I am definitely subscribing, and I might just have to get myself a speculum off Amazon. I'm also going to make my boyfriend listen to this.

Aug 4th
Reply (1)

Holls Balls

I’m shocked that woman didn’t know anything at all about their bodies in the 60s

Jun 19th

David Boomer Davis

There wasn't really any science in this episode, just anecdotes about abortions in the past

May 31st

Apple Betty

Excellent episode. I can't believe no one would sponsor this, which is very telling and a little frightening as to the direction. we are headed in.

May 28th


Extremely educational. Thank you.

May 27th

Shirley Yiu

What an fascinating topic, thank you. I look forward to hearing the next one!

May 25th

Erica Martin

Thank you for shining light on this important yet controversial subject. A+ on another great and informative episode

May 24th

Lis Stanger

another excellent podcast

May 24th








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The Abortion Underground

The Abortion Underground