A Champion of Reproductive Freedom: Dottie Doyle
Dottie Doyle, who today is an active member of the Uniarian Universalists of Clearwater, FL, became a political activist in the pro-choice movement of the early 1970’s through a back door. Doyle was a young mother with two children and a husband who worked for the (Catholic) Diocesan Bureau of Human Relations Services. She ran for, and won, a seat in the Maine House of Representatives in1969.
At a “Meet the Candidates Night,” Doyle recalls that a woman asked each of the local legislative candidates their opinion on abortion legislation. Until that very moment, Doyle said, “I had never even thought of abortion as a political issue. I didn’t know that at that time, most states—including Maine—had laws that totally banned abortions no matter what the circumstances. New York was the only state that allowed them, and that was with certain restrictions. I managed to stammer an answer that indicated that I thought abortions should be legal—that the decision should be left to woman and her doctor. I had an instant constituency that expected me to do something about the existing ban on abortion.”
Doyle went to Augusta, the state capitol, and told those in charge that she wanted to repeal the abortion law. Doyle was quickly caught in the legislative morass that complicated what to her seemed a simple act. She said, “I learned that I needed to introduce a bill similar to one in New York that would allow abortions only if the life or health of the pregnant woman was in danger if I had any hope of getting this passed. I introduced two bills (so that there was a legislative alternative in the process), and entered into a flurry of activity.” Doyle learned about the history of abortion legislation—that there were no bans on the procedure until the Industrial Revolution, when women were increasingly valued for their child bearing ability, as more workers were needed to support the economy. She also learned how vicious the opposition to her beliefs could be: “Not only was I vilified in the media, my children were subjected to all sorts of harassment. My husband lost his position with the Catholic Diocese, as he couldn’t ‘control’ me. However, I learned that there also was great support for my beliefs and for me from a variety of liberals, including progressive Democrats, Unitarians and Universalists, and Planned Parenthood.”
Doyle ended up joining the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Bangor, ME, and said she felt like she had found an intellectual, political and spiritual home. “I was invited to speak all over the state at UU churches, and at various forums and debates. I went to New York City to visit abortion clinics and to Washington, DC, to a NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) conference. I was interviewed on radio and TV, including one appearance with Sarah Weddington, the attorney who presented Roe v. Wade to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was all very exciting, and very difficult. “
When Doyle’s proposed legislation finally came up for a vote, they were soundly defeated, although with more Republican than Democratic votes registered in favor of passage. Doyle did not win re-election, nor did some of her supporters. And there was more change: “My marriage ended, and I moved to Augusta.”. But in 1973, Roe v. Wade upheld the decision to have an abortion as a fundamental right, and Doyle proudly proclaims, “I have been a UU throughout the subsequent years. In retrospect, I marvel at my naivetè, but am pleased that I was able to play a small part in this significant struggle for reproductive freedom. I am forever grateful to the UUs who led me to the freedom of my individual spiritual path.”