Something of a follow up to the last post — some of you younger folk (I assume at least a few younger folk beside my nephew Ian read this blog, although you wouldn’t know it from the comments) might not know about Sherri Finkbine. And the rest of you more mature (ahem) readers might have forgotten.
Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, Sherri Finkbine of Phoenix, Arizona, was one of the “Romper Room” ladies (it’s coming back to you now, isn’t it?). Romper Room was a popular children’s television program that I used to watch, although the only parts of it I remember is the stuff about “do bees” and “don’t bees” and the “magic mirror” segment in which the Romper Room Lady said happy birthday and such to various children watching at home.
Anyway, sometime in the early 1960s, Finkbine was pregnant with her fifth child when she took some tranquilizers. Back then we didn’t know about drugs crossing the placenta and getting into the fetus; pregnant ladies smoked and drank too. It turned out these tranquilizers contained Thalidomide. Thalidomide was a new drug not approved for sale in the U.S.; Mr. Finkbine, a high school teacher, had bought the tranquilizers in London while chaperoning a school trip.
But doctors in Europe had just figured out that Thalidomide was causing a rash of extreme birth defects, including missing limbs, deafness, and blindness. This was actually one of the first big clues doctors had that things women eat and drink might affect a fetus.
Finkbine’s physician advised her to terminate the pregnancy; she and her husband agreed. A local hospital tentatively agreed to do the procedure. But state and local law enforcement got wind of this and told the hospital, the doctor, and the Finkbines that they would all be subject to prosecution under Arizona abortion law if the abortion was performed.
But then Finkbine gave an interview to a local newspaper about her situation, possibly in hopes of gaining public support (although she said later she had expected anonymity) and to warn pregnant women not to take the tranquilizers. And then all hell broke loose.
Finkbine’s pending abortion became global news. Wingnuts from the Atlantic to the Pacific publicly vilified her. The Finkbines appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court to allow the abortion, but lost. And time was passing.
Finally, in August 1962, Finkbine and her husband flew to Sweden and had a late-term abortion performed there. The Swedish hospital confirmed that the fetus was missing both legs and had only one arm.
After the Finkbines returned to Arizona, Mrs. Finkbine was dismissed by the television show and Mr. Finkbine was suspended from his teaching job. “Their children were hounded, anonymous death threats poured in by post and telephone and the press swarmed around their home,” the BBC said. The Finkbines had two more children but eventually divorced in 1973.
Just a reminder of what America was like before Roe v. Wade.