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Celebrating a Fragile Roe v. Wade Victory for Choice

 

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In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion …advocates celebrated the end of back-alley abortions and their tragic consequences.
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Visit our photo timeline for more about PPLM's history.

The courageous work of countless individuals came to fruition in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion. Advocates of choice across the state and around the nation celebrated the end of back-alley abortions and their tragic consequences. After more than half a century of indefatigable dedication to the cause, PPLM could finally provide a full range of educational and sexual health services, including abortion.

Much to the surprise of many, PPLM decided not to open clinics under its own name. Instead, it used all its resources to help establish, fund and support clinics within existing hospitals and health care agencies across Massachusetts. The leadership believed that family planning belonged as an integral part of comprehensive health care services. They wanted to see sexual and reproductive health permanently and inextricably woven into the medical
mainstream. The days of marginalizing sexual health care were over.

More than any organization in the state, PPLM brought the latest contraceptive, abortion, and family planning information and services to Massachusetts residents by hiring community-organizers to develop local support for new clinics, writing grants for federal funding, and providing contraceptive counseling and training to the clinic staffs. By the early 1970s, thanks to PPLM’s efforts, ten federally funded clinics opened, none with the PPLM name over its doors.

In 1967, a PPLM nurse who was loaned to Boston City Hospital where she provided contraceptive counseling and services was hired away from PPLM by the hospital, a great victory, since it was tangible proof PPLM was changing the system.

PPLM’s Counseling and Referral Hotline opened in the '70s, stretching PPLM’s influence and outreach and brought additional services to women and men statewide. Nearly 25,000 people annually sought the free, confidential telephone counseling service, staffed by more than 50 trained volunteers at the greater Boston PPLM Clinic. Today, this service continues to provide information on contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, prenatal care, infertility, adoption, sterilization, and abortion as well as HIV testing and counseling to the many thousands of callers who turn to PPLM for confidential help.

Nicki Nichols Gamble began her 25-year role as PPLM Executive Director in 1974. It would later be called the most forward-thinking quarter century in PPLM’s 70-year history. Gamble brought tremendous entrepreneurial energy to the job and the strength of her passion and intellect carried the organization to heights undreamed of by its founders. Few who worked with Gamble or served on PPLM boards during her tenure at the helm will soon forget her extraordinary leadership or the indelible mark she would leave on the organization and its mission.
 
In 1980, the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment that prohibited the use of Medicaid funding for abortions, except when necessary to save a woman’s life. A new federal gag rule severely hampered the delivery of reproductive health services by repealing funding for family planning programs that provided abortions or counseling about abortion options, even if withholding the information endangered a woman’s life. For the impoverished and the young, it was a step backward and a clear sign of the vulnerability of Roe v. Wade.

On January 17, 1978, the PPLM Board of Directors voted to develop a medical family planning component as part of PPLM’s program and to broaden the agency’s focus.  It was a move that permanently altered the organization’s scope, direction, and character. The impetus grew out of a 1974 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) which said that a majority of low-income and teenaged women in Massachusetts were underserved. PPLM staff realized that residents in the city of Worcester were most in need of family planning services, and that it was one of the few large cities in the nation without a free standing clinic providing abortion services.

On January 23, 1980, PPLM publicly announced its decision to establish a clinic in Worcester.  The Planned Parenthood Clinic of Central Massachusetts would provide patient education and counseling, contraceptive care, first- trimester abortion services, and community education. A public hearing was scheduled at Worcester State College on April 30, 1980, part of the official approval process. Six hundred people attended. Members of PPLM’s Clinic Committee, a group of prominent Worcester-area residents and professionals established to oversee the planning and development of the facility, as well as local physicians, nurses, social workers, and clergy, testified on behalf of the clinic. The Public Health Council soon approved PPLM’s Determination of Need (DON), but antiabortion forces stepped up its efforts to halt the clinic’s establishment. The opposition spent 2 ½ years challenging the clinic’s opening, but despite their considerable efforts, all cases were ultimately decided in PPLM’s favor.

Following these years of delays, PPLM opened the clinic in the Worcester area of central MA in 1982. The demand for services far outweighed the available supply. Many of the women there were poor and underserved, and needed easier access to the full range of reproductive health care services, including abortion. Early philanthropic support for the clinic came from Worcester’s most prominent families, Bowditch, Herron, Melville, Jeppson and Densmore. During this period, patients and staff were frequently harassed by abortion opponents in a group called Problem Pregnancy that rented space on the same floor of the Main Street building. In 1992, PPLM moved its Worcester Clinic to Lincoln Street. At the same time, the League was also busy working to defeat repeated attempts at anti-abortion amendments on Beacon Hill. While celebrated victories for women everywhere, PPLM and its many supporters across the state knew the ongoing struggle for reproductive rights required their relentless vigilance.


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