Sometime in the early 1970s I sat in the waiting room of my ophthalmologist’s Manhattan office with a friend. Across from us sat the diminutive star of the films Harold and Maude and Rosemary’s Baby, Ruth Gordon. I picked up the Life Magazine she had been reading and recognized the face of a man I would not soon forget. Milan Vuitch performed an abortion on me in his Washington DC medical office in December, 1967. The magazine article identified Vuitch as a doctor on trial (United States V. Vuitch) for performing illegal abortions.
Because I was part of an elite community in 1967 – an art student in a northeastern college – I was able to obtain the name of a physician who would presumably perform the operation safely. The code word to make an appointment with Dr. Vuitch was “Sissy Boynton sent me.” And early one morning with the boyfriend who some months later would become my first husband, I settled into a seat on the Amtrak to Washington. Dr. Vuitch performed a D & C using only a local anesthetic, without a nurse present. I was 21 years old.
Dr. Vuitch did a competent job — one that allowed me another 23 years to decide to become a mother. The oldest woman in the maternity ward of my local hospital, I was healthy enough and lucky enough to give birth when other women my age were seeing their kids graduate from High School or whose biological clocks had run out. Two years later when I returned to my college for my 25th reunion, I was the mother of the youngest child. There were classmates who had decided not to have children. They had demanding careers. We were the class of 1968. We would change the world, now others want to change it back again.
I do not know what motivated a man like Vuitch to perform illegal abortions in a Washington DC medical building in the 1960′s. Perhaps it was because he believed a woman had the right to choose. Perhaps he did it for the money (in my case, the proceeds of the sale of a ten-year old Volkswagen Microbus which had once been painted with flowers.) These days when I pass the Women’s Health clinic in my town and see the protesters picketing and shouting to women as they enter the building, I am usually accompanied by my almost-5 year old son whose favorite bakery is nearby. He is excited and eager to taste the chocolate mouse which is their specialty. We quicken our step, I squeeze his hand.