This is one in a series of profiles marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Each week through December 2015 we will highlight the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
This week back in 1967, Colorado became the first state to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, or in which pregnancy would lead to permanent physical disability of women. This profile honors the work of Kentucky Drs. Walter "Mac" Wolfe and Phillip Crossen, abortion providers that also partnered with the ACLU of Kentucky to protect access to abortion services.
Dr. Walter "Mac" Wolfe & Dr. Phillip Crossen
“For [Dr. Wolfe], there was no question that it was a woman's right to decide. And if she decided to have an abortion, she had a right to have it done safely, regardless of income and background. He was really brave. He risked his job many times." -Nancy Gall-Clayton, reproductive rights activist
Dr. Walter "Mac" Wolfe of Louisville and Dr. Phillip Crossen of Lexington, were not only physicians, but also state-level advocates for women's reproductive rights in the commonwealth.
In May 1970, Dr. Crossen was party to a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of Kentucky Abortion Statute, KRS 436.020 that fined doctors for performing abortions unless the procedure was necessary to "preserve her life." Though the challenge was unsuccessful, Dr. Crossen argued that it was impossible, under the wording of the statute, to determine whether an abortion may be performed to save a woman from a future but untimely death, or whether such an operation may be performed within the strictures of the law only if it is necessary to save the woman from certain and imminent death.
After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion in 1973, the General Assembly passed another law restricting it. The Kentucky Civil Liberties Union (KCLU) sued the state on behalf of Dr. Wolfe and Dr. Crossen. And in November 1974, a federal court upheld access to abortions in Kentucky.
Dr. Wolfe was later a plaintiff in a suit against Jefferson Fiscal Court over an ordinance to regulate abortions in Jefferson County in 1979. The state Court of Appeals ruled in 1981 that the county could not restrict abortions.
Wolfe helped found EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville in 1981.
Dr. Crossen and Wolfe's advocacy on behalf of their patients in Kentucky clinics and hospitals, as well as the courts, inspired many medical professionals and activists to work for reproductive rights.
After Dr. Wolfe passed away in 2006, ACLU of Kentucky Face of Liberty Dona Wells said, "So many times when I get upset, I think, 'I owe this to Mac Wolfe to make sure that abortion stays safe and legal in Kentucky.'"