The Abortion Fight and Gerri Santoro

by Julie Graber | on 1 Jan 2020

If you don’t know who Gerri Santoro was, you might want to wait before Googling her name. But everyone should know her story.

Gerri’s infamy comes not from her life but how she died — alone in a hotel room, naked, crouched on the floor with a bloody towel between her legs, bleeding out from an illegal and unsafe abortion in 1964. Her death was documented in a crime scene photo published in Ms. Magazine in 1973.

Some might look at the picture and argue that it is proof that abortion should be outlawed. But they are wrong. Outlawing abortion won’t keep it from happening — women from the dawn of time have sought to control their ability to become pregnant and reproduce, and abortions — legal and illegal, safe and unsafe — have been one of the options. Anti-choice advocates ignore that reality — that abortion will happen regardless of the law — at the peril of our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends.

The effort to eliminate a woman’s right to choose is not driven by concern for the potential of an embryo or fetus. If we really cared about all those potential lives, pre-natal care and post-natal care would be free in the US; paid maternity leave and paid time off for family would be the law of the land; childcare would be abundant, free, and of the highest quality; public schools would be fully funded, and post-secondary education would be affordable. Our safety net programs would be supportive, not punitive, taking into account the reality of the lives of women with small children. Minimum wage would be an amount that would provide for a family — housing, food, the basic necessities. Employers would provide full-time employment with benefits to their workers, vs. we’ll-call-you-if-we-need-you scheduling.

That’s if those who oppose a woman’s right to choose really cared about the child that would result from carrying a pregnancy to term.

But the anti-choice movement is driven primarily by men whose sense of self-worth is challenged by the thought of women making choices for themselves. Men who only feel good about themselves when they feel superior to women, who see it as a man’s role to decide when women have sex and with whom.

It is about control and it is about power. Seriously — what better example of men’s belief in their omnipotent power is there than the idea that the mere addition of the sperm — fertilization — is what marks the beginning of life? I am convinced that the frenzy over abortion rights is driven to large extent by men who have seen much of their power and control over women’s lives slip through their fingers. Damn that birth control pill.

Nothing about Gerri Santoro’s life was easy — you can almost write the story: young woman and mother, running from an abusive marriage, pregnant with another man’s baby, knowing that she could not bring yet another child into the world.

It breaks my heart to think about what her last moments of on this earth were like — alone, scared, undoubtedly in pain — I can’t look at the picture without my eyes filling with tears. And as I have read the news as Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Georgia and others have sought to limit abortion rights my heart is heavy. And I am reminded of Gerri Santoro.

You can google Gerri Santoro. You’ll find her story and the unforgettable image pretty quickly — it’s readily available. I debated whether or not to post it - I am always so torn. I do so much work around gender equality and I don’t want to lose the ability to reach people with those messages — I am fearful that some will tune out everything.

Then again, I really thought we were done with this argument regarding the most basic of women’s rights — the right to make her own reproductive choices. So I have to wonder if it isn’t time to just let the picture do the talking.

Scroll down for image.

santoro crime scene photo