Access to Abortions at City Hospital
On August 16, 1974, when a St. Louis City resident (“Jane Doe”) had complicated health problems, doctors at the public City Hospital No. 1 told her to obtain a medical abortion elsewhere before returning for a needed hysterectomy. This required her to undergo surgery twice instead of once.
Although medical abortions in the first months of gestation were legalized by Roe v. Wade in 1973, they were not offered at the city’s public hospitals. John Poelker, mayor of St. Louis at the time, was strongly against abortion, as were most City Hospital doctors, who were affiliated with Saint Louis University.
Poelker v. Doe
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri went to court on behalf of “Jane Doe,” after learning she was turned away from care. Lower courts ruled for Doe and ordered that city medical centers must perform abortions. However, the city appealed, and in Poelker v. Doe (1977), the Supreme Court ruled that the city could choose which procedures to offer or decline to offer.
Defending people’s rights to make their own decisions about reproductive health has long been a core issue for the ACLU of Missouri—from Roger Baldwin helping Margaret Sanger speak about birth control in 1916 to the court challenges that continue in the 21st century.
Below are a just a few documents from the past 100 years of this work (click each image to enlarge and read):
ACLU of Missouri Records, Series 3, Box 16. Read a selection of digitized documents from the folder Doe v. Poelker