BY MICHAEL D. SORKIN
Posted: Sunday, November 6, 2011
ST. LOUIS — Working as a hospital nurse here during the 1960s, Judy Widdicombe, who died last week, saw firsthand the results of illegal abortions.
“Women were dying in St. Louis,” she later recalled. She watched women come into the emergency room at her hospital bleeding after an illegal abortion, sometimes one that was self-induced.
“You had to wonder what kind of pain and trauma was going on in their minds to make them do this,” Ms. Widdicombe told the Post-Dispatch.
When the Supreme Court ruled, on Jan. 22, 1973, that abortion was legal, Ms. Widdicombe set about providing medical facilities for women.
She founded Reproductive Health Services, whose clinics in the Central West End and West County were for years the only places where women could obtain legal abortions in eastern Missouri.
The clinics were the scenes of bitter demonstrations by abortion opponents. The clinics merged during the 1990s with Planned Parenthood.
Judith Ann Widdicombe died Thursday (Nov. 3, 2011) at Gambrill Gardens retirement center in Ellisville. She was 73, had heart surgery several years ago and was diagnosed this summer with cancer, her family said Saturday.
At 16, Ms. Widdicombe spent the summer volunteering as a hospital nurse’s aide. She remembered the day a woman was wheeled into the emergency room bleeding profusely from an illegal abortion.
The woman died, Ms. Widdicombe recalled, amid a frenzy of doctors and nurses shrieking, “Who did this to you?” and “Where did you go?”
Abortions were illegal then in Missouri and most states.