Paul Krassner, Tuli Kupferberg and unidentified woman. Photo by Paskal / The Rag Blog.
Iconic American satirist Paul Krassner is writing a series of six monthly columns for AlterNet and the first is a damned good read.
In the rather blandly titled, “‘60s Icon Paul Krassner Reveals His Early History,” Krassner, a guy I admire, revere and consider both a hero and a friend, tells the amazing story of how an interview with an anonymous illegal abortion provider that he published in The Realist in 1962 led to desperate women calling him for advice—effectively seeing him become an “underground railroad” of abortion referrals and eventually facing legal troubles himself.
The Q&A that ran in The Realist with Dr. Robert Spencer, a humane doctor known to his grateful patients as “The Saint"and who charged between $5 and $100 to perform the surgeries, was revealing of the harsh reality of illegal abortion in America, pre-Roe v. Wade and the hypocrisy of the times. Ministers’ daughters, FBI agents, even priests came to Dr. Spencer’s clinic with the housekeepers they’d knocked-up. 5,000 women died every year back then, killed by criminal butchers who charged as much as $1,500.
After that issue was published, I began to get phone calls from frightened women. They were all in desperate search of a safe abortion doctor. It was preposterous that they should have to seek out the editor of a satirical magazine, but their quest so far had been futile, and they simply didn’t know where else to turn.
With Dr. Spencer’s permission, I referred them to him. At first there were only a few calls each week, then several every day. I had never intended to become an underground abortion referral service, but it wasn’t going to stop just because in the next issue of The Realist I would publish an interview with somebody else.
A few years later, state police raided Dr. Spencer’s clinic and arrested him. He remained out of jail only by the grace of political pressure from those he’d helped. He was finally forced to retire from his practice, but I continued mine, referring callers to other physicians that he had recommended. Occasionally a patient would offer me money, but I never accepted it. And whenever a doctor offered me a kickback, I refused, but I also insisted that he give a discount for the same amount to those patients I referred to him.
Eventually, I was subpoenaed by district attorneys in two cities to appear before grand juries investigating criminal charges against abortion doctors. On both occasions I refused to testify, and each time the D.A. tried to frighten me into cooperating with the threat of arrest.
In Liberty, New York, my name had been extorted from a patient who was threatened with arrest. The D.A. told me that the doctor had confessed everything and they got it all on tape. He gave me until two o’clock that afternoon to change my mind about testifying, or else the police would come to take me away.
“I’d better call my lawyer,” I told him.
In 1970 Paul Krassner even sued New York State as the sole plaintiff in the first lawsuit seeking to declare the abortion laws unconstitutional. Eventually several women’s groups joined the suit and the state legislature repealed criminal sanctions against abortion. This happened before the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade.
Being the imp of perversity that he was, and still is, for a short time in the late 1970s, Paul Krassner, probably the most feminist guy of the 1960s, became the editor of Hustler magazine during the time when Larry Flynt was going through his “born again” Christian phase…
A new expanded edition of Paul Krassner’s autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture is available directly from the author.
Below, a 2009 interview that I conducted with the great Paul Krassner: