Friday, November 03, 2006

Obituary of the Week

When I visited San Francisco a couple weeks ago I realized that one thing I missed about reading The Chronicle was some of the wire stories it ran. People always complain about wire stories when assessing the value of a newspaper, and reporters are loath to admit that if any paper had to rely just on their local copy, it would get kind of boring. Yeah, it's a sign of your paper's weakness if you are relying on the wires for a big story, especially one that happened in your own region. But I think it's a sign of good editing when a paper consistently turns up interesting stories on topics its reporters might not be up on. The Chronicle editors had an eye for the quirky story, and they also improved a lot recently in running lots of stories about child development research and other family stuff to supplement its newly formed family issues reporting team.

All this brings me to one thing I like about the Chicago Tribune: Its choices on the obituary page. The one that made me happy today is actually borrowed from the Trib's unhappy stepsister paper, the Los Angeles Times. Here's a hero of the choice movement who, unlike Roe, never changed her mind. A real life "Cider House Rules" doctor. And anyone who has ever seen a child exposed to rubella in utero will sympathize with the mother in the article.

Dr. Jane Hodgson: 1915 - 2006
Forced legal showdown by performing abortion

Los Angeles Times

November 3, 2006

Dr. Jane Hodgson, the first U.S. doctor to be convicted of illegally performing an abortion, has died in Rochester, Minn.

Dr. Hodgson was 91 and died Oct. 23 of complications from congestive heart failure, said a family member.

The woman who showed up at the office of Dr. Hodgson in 1970 contracted rubella in the first month of her pregnancy and feared the baby would be born with deformities. She wanted an abortion.

Abortion was illegal then in Minnesota, but Dr. Hodgson had treated a sad parade of patients --bleeding, infected, mutilated victims of back-alley abortions --and was convinced the law should be overturned.

Now with this woman, a married mother of three, she could force a legal showdown on abortion.

After seeking permission from the federal court and receiving no answer, Dr. Hodgson performed the procedure, deliberately disobeying the law. A grand jury indicted the doctor, and a judge found her guilty.

It was a seminal moment in the push to legalize abortions in the U.S. and a defining moment in the life of Dr. Hodgson. Three years later the Supreme Court legalized abortion in its Roe vs. Wade decision.

The doctor's decision to perform that abortion was "a catalyst for the entire movement" in Minnesota, said Tim Stanley, senior director of government and public affairs for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

The judge in Dr. Hodgson's case sentenced her to 30 days in jail and a year of probation. That ruling was still being appealed in 1973 when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade.

Later, Dr. Hodgson's conviction was overturned.

The refusal of hospitals and individual doctors who were fearful of performing the procedure meant women who live in certain areas had little access even though abortions are legal. The law means nothing, Dr. Hodgson often said, if women have no access.

The doctor spent a lifetime waging legal battles to preserve the law. At 76, Dr. Hodgson continued to perform abortions, traveling 150 miles from her home in St. Paul to Duluth, because doctors there would not perform the procedure.

"If at any time I've ever had any doubt about what I'm doing, all I have to do is see a patient, and talk to her, and I realize it's the right thing," Dr. Hodgson said in 1989.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Oh, and lest reading obituaries seems a dreary way to start your weekend, let's end with a cute Nutmeg quote:

Me: Nutmeg, let's make oatmeal.
Nutmeg: Oatmeal! The BEST meal in the WORLD!

If only her tastes stay that inexpensive, maybe we'll be able to send her to college after all.


Notta Wallflower said...

Ha, ha - enjoy Nut's simple tastes and tuck the memories away for use at a later time. Like when she's a teenager and asking for an outrageously priced x (x being anything that teenage girls want). :-P

Bert said...

This doctor's story is an amazing one. What a courageous woman, to stand up for something she believes in enough to be convicted and go to jail! Just think of all of the lives she changed! Thanks for sharing this. (And a shout out to Minnesota for having such cool people living there. I should know. :)