For Kino Community Hospital, it was the end of abortion services. But for Annette Everlove it was the beginning of a career in law that continues to this day, and for David Yetman it was the beginning of his 12-year stint as a Pima County Supervisor. And for Americans, it was the beginning of a nationwide debate.
It was 1977, just four years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. In the early days of abortion’s legality, access to the procedure was still extremely limited. There were only one or two private practitioners who provided abortion access in the entire city of Tucson.
And then there was Kino Community Hospital.
As a county-owned public hospital, Kino’s services were provided to its patients free of charge. Consequently, it was the sole source of medical care for many of Tucson’s poor. Shortly after Kino opened its doors in 1977, a Pima County Supervisor learned that the hospital was performing abortions. The question of whether or not Kino would be permitted to continue abortion services was put on the agenda.
“There was a long hearing that went on,” says former County Supervisor David Yetman, recalling the contentious debate that formed around the issue of Kino abortions. “I had only been on the Board for nine months, so I was still pretty green.”
As the debate took shape, Yetman’s many strongly worded public statements in favor of abortion access attracted negative attention from his opponents. He remembers finding himself sharing his office with an uninvited guest, a local anti-abortion leader.
“[He] started yelling at me about my sinful ways,” recalls Yetman. “And I said, ‘I need you to get out of my office.’ And he wouldn’t leave. So I called security and before security got there he was gone.”
According to an Institute of Government Research poll available at the time, 60 percent of Arizonans believed that “the right to an abortion must not be denied.” The number of Tucsonans holding that conviction could very well have been higher. Yetman, however, was not optimistic that the five-member Board would represent Tucsonans’ prevailing support for abortion rights. “Everybody knew how everyone was going to vote,” he recalls. “You had three anti-abortion Supervisors on the Board.”
On September 5, 1977, the Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to end funding for abortions at Kino. The only two Supervisors to vote in favor of continuing funding were Yetman, a Democrat, and Katie Dusenberry, a Republican.
“It really represented the power that a relatively small proportion of the population had to control women’s rights,” says Yetman.
The Board’s decision met with fierce public response. On September 19, a protest took place at the County Administrative Building. Annette Everlove, then a second-year law student, helped to organize the demonstration as a member of the Law Women’s Association. There were protesters representing 22 groups, chanting and holding signs. They were demonstrating against not only what they saw as a negation of Roe v. Wade, but also the loss of abortion access for the county’s poor.
Everlove recalls that “the goal [of the Board of Supervisors] was to absolutely do away with the provision of abortion services by the county, leaving the indigent population with no available services.”
It was at the protest that Daily Star photographer Scott Braucher snapped a photo of Yetman and Everlove, which ran in the newspaper the next day.
“I wanted to go down and welcome them, tell them that no matter what happened, this was not going to be the end of things, maybe for Kino Hospital but certainly not for women’s rights,” Yetman remembers about his presence at the protest. “Annette Everlove was more or less the organizer of it. I went out and talked to her, and that’s when someone picked up the photograph.”
The tension between the abortion-rights and anti-abortion camps has evolved over the last 30 years. Decisions like the one made by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1977 were being made in localities all over the country, which was just one strategy employed by the anti-abortion movement to limit access to abortion services. First they were placed out of the reach of certain segments of the population, such as minors and the poor, but after many years the effort was successful; currently, 87 percent of U.S. counties do not have abortion services available.
“In 1977 we viewed [those who opposed abortion] as the most marginal of folks,” recalls Everlove. “I don’t know if the more sophisticated element could see the right-to-life movement looming on the horizon. I don’t think any of us really believed that there could be any substantial long-term or sustainable inroads into Roe v. Wade. To us, that was the law of the land.”
After Pima County’s only public hospital was forced to discontinue abortions, Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona made the decision to add the procedure to their list of services. This decision, however, was not one taken lightly by the organization’s board members. While most felt that abortion services were clearly within the scope of their family-planning mission, there was some resistance.
“There were a few on the board who didn’t think that would be a good idea,” recalls former Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona Board President Rev. Mike Smith. “We had such a fine reputation, [and] some people thought we’d jeopardize that. But the vast majority held pretty firm that this was the right thing to do. There were just not that many providers out there.”
Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona did not start offering abortion services until 1983; with the discontinuation of such services at Kino Hospital in 1977, there was a five-year gap in access to abortion in the area. The loss of services forced Southern Arizonans seeking abortions to continue unwanted pregnancies unless they could somehow get their hands on the resources required either to pay a private practitioner or to travel to a public hospital outside of Tucson. Planned Parenthood was able to restore that access, a big job for a private organization.
Tales like these highlight the difference your vote can make. While presidential campaigns attract the most attention, it is important that we elect pro-choice candidates to every level of government. In 1977, the Pima County Board of Supervisors’ 3-to-2 decision resulted in a five-year loss of access to affordable abortion services in Southern Arizona – a decision that did not reflect the will of the Board’s constituents. By registering to vote and then researching and voting for pro-choice candidates and policies, you can play a role in protecting reproductive rights for the current generation of Arizonans.
Annette Everlove is senior partner at her own law firm and David Yetman is the host of KUAT’s The Desert Speaks. Kino Community Hospital, amid financial troubles, was taken over by University Physicians HealthCare in 2005 and renamed University Physicians HealthCare Hospital at Kino Campus. It still does not provide abortion services.