Pitt in the making: Controversial topics weren’t always so fraught


Once upon a time, universities were the hub of frank talk and debate on controversial subjects with not a hint of political impact.

Just two years before Richard Nixon and his minions created his infamous “enemies list,” two Pitt people headed local abortion-focused activist groups. While this activism was presumably in their spare time, neither hid their affiliation with the University.

On Dec. 30, 1969, in the wake of 10 states recently revising their laws “to permit abortion under certain circumstances,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed the leaders of these two groups: the Abortion Justice Association and the Pittsburgh Committee for Human Life.

The chair of the Abortion Justice Association, the pro-choice group, was a Pitt faculty member in psychiatry who told the newspaper that the ultimate aim of his organization is “to abolish all abortion laws.” He said then-current anti-abortion laws “discriminate against those who don't have a particular moral or religious objection to abortion.”

He opined that fetuses were not babies until they were born. His organization recommended women to “seven or eight” obstetricians who performed abortions locally, since Pennsylvania’s abortion ban seemed “vague” enough to permit the procedure anyway.

And he remained associated with Pitt institutions at least through 1980.

Leading the opposite side was an obstetrician at Magee-Womens Hospital, a Pitt-affiliated institution at the time, even before UPMC existed. His viewpoints against abortion included “The question of whether a mother's life is in danger is an unrealistic question. It has never happened to me” when delivering babies; “rape and fertility coinciding is not the common but the rare thing” and “it is up to society to help these people with a child that has a defect.”

And he also remained associated with Pitt until his death in 1985.

Less than a month after this article, the Pittsburgh Press wrote about a gun control study, involving data from every state and 129 large cities, by two Carnegie Mellon professors and a Pitt School of Law faculty member. The Jan. 8, 1970, report said the study found: “Gun control laws effectively reduced deaths by firearms. … The tougher the laws the lower the gun death rate.”

The researchers “estimated that as many as 3,340 lives could be saved in this country annually if all states adopted firearm laws similar to those in New Jersey, where gun controls are relatively tight” at that time. Their study concluded that “gun controls appeared most effective in lowering suicides and accidents by firearms, less effective in reducing homicides,” but not helpful in reducing other crimes.

Six years later, the Pitt professor conducting the study, R. Stanton Wettick Jr., was appointed by the governor to the bench of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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