Abortion rights: 1969-89
The struggle over abortion rights following court decisions liberalizing the procedure carries on today.

Abortion had been legal in the District of Columbia since 1901 only to protect a woman’s health. Private physicians and hospitals had been performing the procedure for years for wealthy women who could afford the price.

The 1901 law was invalidated by a District Court ruling in late 1969, making all abortions legal.

The Supreme Court overturned the District Court decision in United States vs. Vuitch shortly after Preterm, the city's first abortion clinic, opened in 1971.

But in doing so, the court defined women’s health as meaning "psychological and physical well-being,” and giving great deference to a doctor’s judgment like other medical procedures--essentially legalizing abortion in the city.

Preterm initially performed abortions for $200, but quickly lowered the price to $150 and did not charge indigent women. Hospitals at the time were charging more than $1,000. Other clinics soon opened.

Pro choice demonstrators sought to defend and expand their gains while anti abortion protesters moved to make the procedure illegal again.

In perhaps the largest demonstration in Washington, D.C. up to that point in time, hundreds of thousands of women came to the city April 10, 1989 demanding to retain the right to choose.
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