Templeton-Stuart recounts 1978 illegal abortion case following SCOTUS ruling

Comparing abortion rights now against former laws
Published: Jun. 26, 2022 at 7:59 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - “After being told my pregnancy at 22-24 weeks was too advanced for a safe abortion, I attempted to perform the abortion myself.”

Courier-Journal credits this as the confession that got Marla Pitchford indicted in 1978 for manslaughter and performing an illegal abortion

“This was the first time that a woman throughout the nation had been prosecuted for performing an abortion on herself during a time when she could have a legal abortion,” said Bowling Green attorney Flora Templeton-Stuart.

Pitchford was a college student at the time, looking forward to marrying her boyfriend and starting a family

“She was this young, 22-year-old college student who was engaged to a young man named Dwight and when he found out she was pregnant, he told her just to get rid of the baby and have an abortion,” Stuart said. “She basically flipped out, she panicked. Probably in an attempted suicide, she was knitting something. She took the needle, put it up her, and aborted the fetus.”

Stuart, or Miss Flora as she was addressed by the judge, was drawn to Pitchford’s case.

“I think I was the first female lawyer to really be practicing at that time and no one would take her case. Marla Pitchford came to me, I’ll never forget the day,” Stuart said. “Of course, I immediately felt a kinship toward her as a female attorney in particular.”

Stuart was able to have the manslaughter charge dropped before arguing temporary insanity.

“The fact that we argued to temporary insanity was not really widely accepted or thrilled by some of the pro-choice groups because it was kind of a cop out,” she said.

After the temporary insanity plea and likening Pitchford’s story to that of Judas, the jury ruled not guilty.

This was 44 years ago.

Now, after the striking down of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion has become illegal in the state of Kentucky unless deemed necessary to save a patient’s life.

“The trigger law came into effect in Kentucky, which now triggers and makes abortion illegal in the state of Kentucky,” Stuart said. “That was expanded recently by the legislature to include rape and incest.”

Stuart worries that with the new trigger law in place, more stories like Pitchford’s could come up, but this time younger.

“There’s been one case of a girl at age of five, but they certainly could get pregnant at 9, 10, 11,” Stuart said. “Even if they were raped by their stepfather or someone else they could face prosecution under this law.”

Stuart adds that, if we are to protect life, it should be protected in every stage.

“We all treasure life,” she said. “If we’re going to treasure life before birth, we need to treasure it after birth. We need to take care of all these young babies that are going to be born.”

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