Mutual Medical Aid before Roe v. wade

In 1967, eight of the 80 girls in my freshman dorm at Boston University got pregnant (which I knew!). Abortion was illegal anywhere in the United States at the time, and in Massachusetts it was also illegal to give birth control information except to a doctor giving it to a married couple. It was not an empty threat. Bill Baird, who later won three lawsuits in the United States Supreme Court for the right to birth control, was at the time in prison and faced ten years in prison for publicly discussing birth control.

In these circumstances, I decided to act. With a small group of friends, we researched the subject and raised funds to publish a manual called Birth control, abortion and DV, a guide for the BU student. We distributed 24,000 copies in small piles on campus. They were gone in a few days. We expected a backlash from the administration, but they were thrilled due to the many student dropouts due to pregnancy. Then Northeastern contacted us to order copies for their students. It was taking off.

That summer I took copies to the National Student Association conference in Kansas and put them in delegate packets with a note giving permission to reprint them adding their own local information and send us a copy. Soon I was able to document much more half a million copies have been distributed in this way. People all over the country were enthusiastic about it. We have received letters from such surprising people as the Chief of OB/GYN at Army Medical Hospital Walter Reade and the Surgeon General of Alabama. Soon others were publishing pamphlets on the subject (see “Student Printing Presses Bring Birth Control History to Colleges”). In 1973 Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion.

The manual shows how things were before deer. Back then, you could only get a legal abortion in the United States if you had two doctors to testify that having a baby would kill you. At the time, we were giving advice on how to get the safest possible illegal abortion or travel outside the United States if you could afford it. To be clear, the manual should not be used for current medical advice as better medications are available today.

Two editions were published, the first in April 1969 and the second in January 1970. Both can be viewed or downloaded below.

“Birth Control, Abortion and VD, A Guide for the BU Student”, 1st edition, published by the Birth Control Committee of the Boston University Student Congress of 1968-1969

“Birth Control, Abortion and VD, A Guide for the BU Student”, 2nd edition, published by the Boston University Student Union 1969-1970

Support JSTOR everyday! Join our new membership program on Patreon today.


JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers and students. JSTOR Daily readers get free access to the original research behind our JSTOR stories.

By: Review by: Takey Crist, Lana Starnes

Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 4, no. 1 (January 1972), p. 60-61

Guttmacher Institute