‘Defend Shirley Wheeler!’ ’70s Daytona abortion case within the information once more

Shirley Ann Wheeler at home in Daytona Beach with her poodle Crystal in 1971.

Shirley Ann Wheeler at dwelling in Daytona Seashore together with her poodle Crystal in 1971.

After final month’s US Supreme Courtroom resolution overturning a constitutional proper to abortion, red-leaning states have been competing to see which legislature can enact the strictest legislation criminalizing abortion.

Some extra average voices have tried to be reassuring, saying these legal guidelines will probably be used in opposition to abortion suppliers, not girls searching for abortions. However can a process be criminalized with out the individuals searching for that process turning into events and witnesses to felonies?

That query has introduced new consideration to a half-century-old Daytona Seashore legal case, State of Florida v. Shirley Ann Wheeler. She is believed to be the one girl in Florida, maybe within the nation, to be convicted of a felony for having an abortion. Slate’s podcast “Gradual Burn” just lately highlighted her case.

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Media consideration to the case started on the within pages of the June 4, 1970, Daytona Seashore Night Information with a information transient headlined, “Abortion charged.”

“A 22-year-old Daytona Seashore girl has been charged with abortion in reference to the stillbirth of a 5-month-old feminine fetus Could 24 at Halifax Hospital, police reported as we speak. Now held in County Jail is Shirley Ann Wheeler.”

Wheeler had hemorrhaged after a second try at an unlawful abortion carried out by a girl in Jacksonville for $300. Wheeler was handled within the emergency room of Halifax Hospital. Police had been alerted after an off-duty policeman overheard hospital orderlies speaking in regards to the case in a bar, in line with an Related Press report.

Wheeler was arrested after returning dwelling from the hospital and was charged beneath an 1868 Florida statute making abortion unlawful besides to save lots of the lifetime of a mom. The penalties had been the identical as manslaughter. She was held on a $5,000 bond and confronted as much as 20 years in jail.

Police and prosecutors had hoped Wheeler would offer data on the one that carried out the unlawful abortion. However Wheeler was not cooperative and, in any case, testified that she didn’t know the identities of both the abortionist or the lady who drove her to Jacksonville to have the abortion.

Mark Lane

Mark Lane

Wheeler got here from an impoverished background in Lawndale, North Carolina, a city of about 500 individuals. Her mom died when she was a toddler and her father put her within the care of family after he remarried. She had been fending for herself since age 16. She was raped by two males as an adolescent, grew to become pregnant, and gave the ensuing little one up for adoption. This was quickly adopted by a nasty marriage.

A interval of drifting landed her on the second ground of a South Grandview Avenue rental together with her boyfriend, Robert Wheeler, who labored in a neighborhood print store. She labored at a wig store however solely part-time as a consequence of well being issues. She took Wheeler’s final identify although they weren’t married. She described her life to a Information-Journal reporter as “not good. Not dangerous. Simply regular.”

She was convicted on July 13, 1971, after a two-day trial in DeLand. The jury wanted solely 45 minutes to succeed in the decision.

“If males needed to undergo being pregnant, abortion would have been authorized years in the past,” she instructed the court docket throughout her sentencing listening to on Oct. 15, 1971.

A News-Journal story as Shirley Ann Wheeler left town to comply with probation terms, Oct.  23, 1971.

A Information-Journal story as Shirley Ann Wheeler left city to adjust to probation phrases, Oct. 23, 1971.

As a result of she didn’t have a legal report, Felony Courtroom of Report Decide Uriel Blount didn’t impose jail time however sentenced her to 2 years’ probation. However with the situation that she both marry Wheeler (Florida’s legislation making it unlawful for single {couples} to stay collectively wasn’t repealed till 2016) or stay with family in North Carolina. She did the latter, telling the media that she wasn’t legally divorced from the person she had married in North Carolina.

Shirley Wheeler with her dog Crystal by her Daytona Beach apartment in 1971.

Shirley Wheeler together with her canine Crystal by her Daytona Seashore residence in 1971.

“I may perceive the order if I had been beneath 21,” she instructed The Information-Journal.

Wheeler case goes nationwide

As her case had moved to trial, her story already went nationwide, and ladies’s teams and the Playboy Basis took up her case and organized for attorneys. An attraction was filed. She instructed reporters she was depressing again in Morganton, North Carolina, and as quickly as her appellate bond was deposited, she returned to Daytona Seashore.

In the meantime, consideration to her story solely grew. She was interviewed by The New York Instances (“Life for 23-year-old Shirley Wheeler has at all times been on the shadow aspect of American dream” was the lede) and The Washington Put up. Wheeler, together with her gentle, country-accented voice, discovered herself talking at a big abortion-rights rally in Washington, DC, because the crowds chanted, “defend Shirley Wheeler! Defend Shirley Wheeler!” Rallies in New York, Boston and San Francisco highlighted her case. A 1971 Village Voice column referred to as her “a rallying level all through the nation.”

After the Florida Supreme Courtroom overturned her conviction in Could 1972, she instructed The Information-Journal she was “significantly relieved,” however “I and tens of millions of different girls will not actually be free till we have now the proper to resolve whether or not or not we need to bear a baby.”

The subsequent yr, the US Supreme Courtroom issued the Roe v. Wade ruling that put unlawful backroom abortion operations, just like the one which landed Wheeler within the emergency room, out of enterprise.

Wheeler lived for a time in Daytona Seashore after the ruling however then moved out of city and dropped out of public view. “Gradual Burn” reported that she died in 2013.

Will there be related circumstances once more as police search for witnesses to allow them to determine and cost individuals performing newly unlawful abortions? This was an uncommon prosecution and the actions within the DeLand courtroom precipitated a nationwide backlash, however some consider it may occur. Which is why the Daytona Seashore girl’s identify is within the media once more and the slogan “defend Shirley Wheeler” has appeared on billboards.

Mark Lane is a Information-Journal columnist. His e-mail is mark.lane@news-jrnl.com.

This text initially appeared on The Daytona Seashore Information-Journal: Shirley Ann Wheeler’s 1971 abortion case is once more within the information

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