Slow Burn: Roe v. Wade

Season 7: Episode 1

Get Married or Go Home

In 1971, Shirley Wheeler became the public face of the fight for abortion rights.

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Episode Notes

In 1970, 22-year-old Shirley Wheeler got an illegal abortion in Florida. When she refused to tell the police who performed the procedure, she was arrested and charged with manslaughter. In the months that followed, she’d be prosecuted and publicly condemned. She’d also become the public face of the fight for reproductive rights.

Season 7 of Slow Burn is produced by Susan Matthews, Samira Tazari, Sophie Summergrad, and Sol Werthan.

Derek John is senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts.

Editorial direction by Josh Levin, Derek John and Johanna Zorn. Mixing by Merritt Jacob and Kevin Bendis.

Our theme music is composed by Alexis Cuadrado. Artwork by Derreck Johnson based on a photo provided by Robert Wheeler.

The season’s reporting was supported by a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.

Curious to learn more about WONAAC? Katherine Parkin, who you heard from in this episode, has an article in the Journal of Family History titled “The Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition & the Abortion Tribunals, 1971-1972.” Her book, Buying and Selling Abortion Before Roe, will be released in 2023.

Sources for This Episode:

Books:

Fessler, Ann. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade, Penguin Press HC, 2006.

Greenhouse, Linda and Reva B. Siegel. Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, Kaplan Publishing, 2010.

Miller , Patricia G. The Worst of Times: Illegal Abortion—Survivors, Practitioners, Coroners, Cops and Children of Women Who Died Talk About Its Horrors, Harpercollins, 1993.

Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973, University of California Press, 1997.

Wilmot Voss, Kimberly. Women Politicking Politely: Advancing Feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, Lexington Books, 2017.

Articles:

“Abortion Can Jail Her For 20 Years,” Associated Press, Sept. 23, 1971.

“Abortion Case Puzzling,” Florida Today, Oct. 5, 1971.

“Abortion Recipient Angry,” Associated Press, Oct. 16, 1971.

Abramson, Martin. “One case gains national attention,” Lowell Sun, Sept 5, 1972.

Austin, Dottie. “Heavy support predicted for Wheeler appeal,” Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Oct. 16, 1971.

Benson Gold, Rachel. “Lessons from Before Roe: Will Past be Prologue?,” Guttmacher Institute, March 1, 2003.

Bishop, Bernie. “Abortion Appeal Promised,” Orlando Sentinel, July 15, 1971.

Bishop, Bernie. “Manslaughter Verdict Ruled In Abortion,” Orlando Sentinel, July 14, 1971.

Bishop, Bernie. “Mrs. Wheeler First Convicted of Abortion in Florida, Placed on Two Years Probation,” Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 16, 1971.

Cohen, Sascha. “The Day Women Went on Strike,” Time, Aug. 26, 2016.

“Confused, Bitter, Going Back Home; Woman Lashes Conviction on Abortion,” United Press International, Oct. 21, 1971.

“Court Sets Aside Verdict in Abortion,” Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 7, 1972.

“Daytonan Guilty of Abortion,” Daytona Beach Morning Journal, July 14, 1971.

Finney, Bill. “Convicted of Manslauter For Having An Abortion: Gets Probation In Abortion Case,” Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Oct. 15, 1971.

Finney, Bill. “Volusia County’s 1st Abortion Trial Enters Second Day,” Daytona Beach Morning Journal, July 13, 1971.

Florida High Court Voids 103‐Year‐Old Abortion Law,” United Press International, Feb. 15, 1972.

Frankfort, Ellen. “From Hester Prynne to Shirley Wheeler,” the Village Voice, Nov. 4, 1971.

Jedrusiak, Marian. “Court Says Leave State Or Wed,” Florida Alligator, Oct. 18, 1971.

Morrissey, Elaine. “Fear Stalks Florida Girl Convicted of Abortion,” Dayton Daily News, Oct. 10, 1971.

Nordheimer, Jon. “She’s Fighting Conviction For Aborting Her Child,” New York Times, Dec. 4, 1971.

“Pathologist Testifies In Abortion Case,” Daytona Beach News Journal, July 13, 1971.

“Shirley Ann Wheeler: ‘I Don’t Belong Here,’” Associated Press, Oct. 29, 1971.

Shirley Stroupe,” News Herald, Feb. 20, 2013.

“Shirley Switches; Off To the Folks,” Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Oct. 23, 1971.

Sinclair, Molly. “Daytona Woman In Hurricane Eye Over Abortion,” Miami Herald, Oct. 11,1971.

Smith, Sherry. “Shirley Wheeler: First US Woman Convicted For Having an Abortion,” the Militant, Oct. 29 1971.

Truxaw, Patsy. “Women Fight Abortion, Controceptive laws in Florida,” the Guardian, Oct. 27, 1971.

“Woman Fighting ‘Go North’ Order,” United Press International, Oct. 21, 1971.

Zimmerman, Matilde and Calvin Goddard. “‘It’s all a case of hypocrisy’ Shirley Wheeler condemns abortion laws,” the Militant, Nov. 26, 1971.

Audiovisual:

Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition records, 1969-1973, Wisconsin Historical Society, u786a2_2.

Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition records, 1969-1973, Wisconsin Historical Society, u786a18_4.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

The 1960s TV Drama That Dared to Defend the Right to Abortion

And inspired a plotline in Mad Men decades later.

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About the Show

In the early 1970s, the future of abortion in America was far from settled. Some states were pushing to liberalize their laws. In others, women could be prosecuted for terminating a pregnancy. Unexpected and dramatic battles raged across the country, shaping the landscape of abortion—even before Roe v. Wade was decided.

For the seventh season of Slate’s Slow Burn, host Susan Matthews explores the path to Roe—a time when more Republicans than Democrats supported abortion rights. You’ll hear the forgotten story of the first woman ever to be convicted of manslaughter for having an abortion, the unlikely Catholic power couple who helped ignite the pro-life movement, and a rookie Supreme Court justice who got assigned the opinion of a lifetime.

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