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'60s Icon Paul Krassner Reveals His Early History with Abortion

Publishing a satirical magazine led Krassner to run an underground abortion referral service.

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Even priests came to Dr. Spencer's clinic with the housekeepers they had impregnated. (Ironically, last month the Colorado Independent reported that “A chain of Catholic hospitals has beaten a malpractice lawsuit by saying that fetuses are not equivalent to human lives.” Their attorneys argued that in cases of wrongful death, the term “person” only applies to individuals born alive, and not those who die in utero.)

That issue of The Realist with the Dr. Spencer interview included a reprint of an article from the London Observer, which began: “Three Roman Catholic theologians have expressed the opinion that, in times of revolution and violence, it is lawful for women, particularly for nuns, to take contraceptive pills and precautions against the danger of becoming pregnant through rape.”

On that same page was our Rumor of the Month: “So-called ‘flying saucers’ are actually diaphragms being dropped by nuns on their way to Heaven.”

After that issue was published, I began to get phone calls from frightened women. They were all in desperate search of a safe abortion doctor. It was preposterous that they should have to seek out the editor of a satirical magazine, but their quest so far had been futile, and they simply didn't know where else to turn.

With Dr. Spencer's permission, I referred them to him. At first there were only a few calls each week, then several every day. I had never intended to become an underground abortion referral service, but it wasn't going to stop just because in the next issue of The Realist I would publish an interview with somebody else.

A few years later, state police raided Dr. Spencer's clinic and arrested him. He remained out of jail only by the grace of political pressure from those he'd helped. He was finally forced to retire from his practice, but I continued mine, referring callers to other physicians that he had recommended. Occasionally a patient would offer me money, but I never accepted it. And whenever a doctor offered me a kickback, I refused, but I also insisted that he give a discount for the same amount to those patients I referred to him.

Eventually, I was subpoenaed by district attorneys in two cities to appear before grand juries investigating criminal charges against abortion doctors. On both occasions I refused to testify, and each time the D.A. tried to frighten me into cooperating with the threat of arrest.

In Liberty, New York, my name had been extorted from a patient who was threatened with arrest. The D.A. told me that the doctor had confessed everything and they got it all on tape. He gave me until two o'clock that afternoon to change my mind about testifying, or else the police would come to take me away.

“I'd better call my lawyer,” I told him.

I went outside to a public phone booth and called, not a lawyer, but the doctor.

“That never happened,” he said.

I returned to the D.A.'s office and told him that my lawyer said to continue being uncooperative. Then I just sat there waiting for the cops.

“They're on their way,” the D.A. kept warning me. But at two o'clock, he simply said, “Okay, you can go home now.”

Bronx district attorney (later judge) Burton Roberts took a different approach. In September 1969, he told me that his staff had found an abortion doctor's financial records, which showed all the money that I had received, but he would grant me immunity from prosecution if I cooperated with the grand jury. He extended his hand as a gesture of trust.

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