The history of abortion is a history of stories, and the ones that took place before Roe v. Wade are oftentimes so pitiable and heartbreaking that one of the most powerful tools of pro-choice advocates is simply telling them. The Choices We Made is a compendium of such stories, and while you could read it in an afternoon, you should not make the decision to do so lightly: It will trouble you for a long time afterward. In it, women whom we know for the large space they occupy in the world—writers Grace Paley, Linda Ellerbee, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and actresses Polly Bergen and Rita Moreno among them—tell us about a time in their lives when they were reduced to begging for a simple medical procedure that, because of the circumstances in which it was performed, almost killed several of them and left at least one infertile. Abortionists in those days included a handful of merciful and scrupulous doctors willing to risk prison, and more than a few monsters who considered groping or sexually assaulting their patients a droit du seigneur.
- Caitlin Flanagan in the May issue of the Atlantic.
In her thought-provoking if somewhat incoherent quasi-review  of The Choice We Made, Ms. Flanagan argues that the conditions the book describes - from a time before abortions were made legal - would not be replicated today. The social stigma around unwed pregnancy, she argues, is (at least in the US) a thing of the past, adoption procedures have improved, medical procedures have become both safer and simpler. These are heart-breaking stories, but they ought, in Ms. Flanagan's view, "to have little role in shaping today's public policy".
I disagree. I would argue that these stories are extremely relevant to the debate on abortion, because they underscore the terrible dangers of forcing an important activity underground. Making abortion illegal, these stories suggest, denies women access to appropriate medical facilities, and leaves them at the mercy of whatever scoundrel or quack they can find to do the deed. Medical science may have made great leaps forward in improving the technology of abortion (progress made possible, of course, by the fact that abortion was legal), but who's to say these advances will remain available to women if abortion is banned? Isn't it more likely that underground abortions will revert to primitive, even barbaric means? After all, it's not as though the horrifying procedures Ms. Flanagan describes in her article represented the state of the art at the time - they were simply the best the person performing them could manage, given the legal constraints.
Okay, so unwed pregnancies aren't as much of a social black mark as they used to be. Okay, so some women are even choosing to have their babies that way. How is that relevant to the question of abortion? Presumably women who are choosing to be single mothers are not the ones demanding abortions in the first place. Greater social acceptance may mean that the demand for abortions has gone down over time, with women who would have had abortions because it would ruin their 'reputations' no longer doing so, but social censure is hardly the only reason women seek abortions, and the fact that the demand for abortions may have gone down only means that the 'cost' of making abortions legal is lower today than in the time of Roe vs. Wade. All the more reason to keep abortions legal.
More importantly, though, this is all a little besides the point. The heart of the pro-choice argument is not a competition of suffering - to compare the damage done on one side vs. the damage done on the other. 'Pro-choice' is not a euphemism for pro-abortion, it is a fundamental belief in the individual's right to self-determination. No one is saying that women should terminate pregnancies, only that women should have the right to make that decision (and a difficult decision it is ) for themselves.
That society - or its agent, the state - should have the right to control what a woman does with her own body is troubling for two reasons. First, because it subordinates individual identity to an abstract principle, justifies human suffering in the name of social or religious good, is an act of tyranny in the name of piety or social order. You may think that abortion is wrong, and you're welcome to that view, but in a pluralistic society there's no reason why you should (or should be able to) impose your view on others, restrict their choices based on your beliefs.
The second difficulty I have with making abortion illegal is the way it implicitly gives primacy to a woman's biological role. If a woman is to be expected to sacrifice any and all other opportunities in order to be a mother, this can only be because being a mother is her primary function in the world. Motherhood, then is more important than adulthood, than independence. And since the key role that women play in society is to produce children, why should society not commandeer their bodies for its own purpose, never mind their feelings or opinions in the matter. 
The point is that making abortions illegal, or granting the state control over them, is an insult and an injury to women everywhere. It is to use biology as a way of making women second class citizens, denying them their right to self-determination. Certainly, there is a practical cost to making abortions illegal - in that it exposes women to unnecessary hazard - and that is a point worth keeping in mind in the abortion debate. But it is, in the end, a secondary point. Abortions should be legal because women have the right to make their own choices, not because making them illegal would be victimising women more than necessary.
Towards the end of her article Ms. Flanagan writes:
But my sympathy for the beliefs of people who oppose abortion is enormous, and it grows almost by the day. An ultrasound image taken surprisingly early in pregnancy can stop me in my tracks....The demands pro-life advocates make of pregnant women are modest: All they want is a little bit of time. All they are asking, in a societal climate in which out-of-wedlock pregnancy is without stigma, is that pregnant women give the tiny bodies growing inside of them a few months, until the little creatures are large enough to be on their way, to loving homes.The key word here is demand. Because demand can be both a plea and an order, and it is only the latter that the pro-choice argument is opposed to. There is certainly much to be said against abortions, and those who oppose abortions are welcome to say it. Let us, by all means, minimise the cost of not terminating a pregnancy - by ensuring that unwed mothers get greater social acceptance, by ensuring proper counselling and adoption services. Let us, by whatever means possible, using whatever arguments or propaganda we see fit, try to convince women not to go through with abortions; let us ensure that women everywhere consider abortion, if at all, only as an extreme last resort. All of this, I, as someone who is clearly pro-choice, have no problems with. My only concern is that the right to make the decision on whether or not to carry the pregnancy through to term, remain with pregnant women herself.
 In which Ms. Flanagan also indulges in some immensely silly stereo-typing. Women, it seems, have sex because they feelings, while men have sex because they are horny. Oh, please.
 What would be interesting, I think, is a book about how emotionally traumatic having an abortion is even after the procedure has been made legal. To hear the pro-life folks tell it, women have abortions with the same blithe readiness with which they order frappucinos. I somehow doubt that's true. And even if there are women like that do we really want them to be mothers?
 There is also, of course, a patriarchal undercurrent - the idea that women with unwanted pregnancies are 'loose' women who ought to be punished. An attitude best exemplified by a particularly cretinous classmate of mine who, in a discussion on abortion, said (I paraphrase): "It's her fault, so why shouldn't she have to pay for it?" - as though men, of course, never had anything to do with pregnancies.