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1962: Abortion mother returns home

An American mother-of-four is on her way home amid a storm of controversy after being given a legal abortion in Sweden.

Sherri Finkbine, a TV presenter from Phoenix in Arizona, was denied an abortion in her home state following intense negative publicity surrounding her case.

The 30-year-old mother decided to terminate her fifth pregnancy after discovering that tranquilizers she had taken in the first few weeks of her pregnancy contained the drug Thalidomide.

In recent months there has been increasing evidence suggesting Thalidomide causes severe foetal deformities including missing limbs, deafness and blindness.

Public condemnation

Mrs Finkbine, host of children's television programme "Romper Room", told her story to the local newspaper, believing it would alert other mothers in the same situation to the dangers of the drug.

But she became the focus of an intense anti-abortion campaign and worldwide public condemnation.

The negative publicity led her local hospital in Phoenix to withdraw a tentative offer of a legal abortion for fear they may be held criminally liable - the current law in Arizona states that abortion can only be carried out to save the mother's life.

Mrs Finkbine and her husband, Robert, a school teacher, took the case to the Arizona State Supreme Court but were unsuccessful.

Despite vilification from anti-abortionists across the United States and the world she flew to Sweden where the operation was carried out.

After the operation it was confirmed that the foetus had no legs and only one arm .

In Context
When she returned to Phoenix Mrs Finkbine's local doctor asked her to register with another physician.

She was dismissed from her job, and her husband was suspended from his high school teaching post.

Their children were hounded, anonymous death threats poured in by post and telephone and the press swarmed around their home.

She and her husband went on to have two more children but divorced in 1973.

In 1991 she married a gynaecologist, becoming Sherrie Chessen.

Worldwide, some 8,000 women who took thalidomide as a sedative and to alleviate morning sickness, gave birth to babies with deformities.

Thalidomide was available in the UK from 1958 and taken off the market in late 1961 after tests revealed it disrupted foetal development.

In 1973 after a barrage of press and public pressure, The Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd, who produced and marketed the drug in Britain, eventually agreed to provide a trust fund and lump sum payouts to all children affected.


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