Sherri Finkbine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sherri Finkbine (born Sherri Chessen in 1932) is an American former children's television host. She is known locally as Miss Sherri, her role on the Phoenix version of the franchised children's show Romper Room. In 1962, Finkbine became a subject of controversy when she sought an abortion after discovering that the thalidomide she had been taking caused serious fetal deformities when used in early stages of pregnancy.

Abortion controversy[edit]

In 1961, Finkbine's husband chaperoned a group of high school students on a European tour, where he purchased over-the-counter sedatives and brought the remainder home. She took 36 of the pills in the early stages of her fifth pregnancy, unaware that they contained thalidomide,[1] which could cause deformity in the fetus.[2] Her physician[who?] recommended that she obtain a therapeutic abortion,[3] the only type permitted in Arizona at the time. To publicize the danger of thalidomide, Finkbine contacted the Arizona Republic. Although she was assured anonymity, her identity was not kept secret.[4]

Following the paper's publication of Finkbine's story, the hospital at which she planned to have the abortion performed, wary of the publicity, sought assurance that it would not be prosecuted.[5] When such assurance was not forthcoming, the scheduled abortion was canceled. When her physician asked for a court order to proceed with the abortion, she and her husband became public figures,[6][7] receiving letters and phone calls in opposition to her requested abortion. A few letters included death threats,[3] and the FBI was brought in to protect her.[8] She also lost her job at a TV station.[9] Finkbine’s case was dismissed by Judge Yale McFate, who found that he did not have the authority to make a decision on the matter.[4]

Swedish abortion[edit]

Finkbine attempted to go to Japan to obtain the abortion, but was denied a visa by the Japanese Consul.[10][11] She and her husband then flew to Sweden, where she obtained a successful and legal abortion, which caused a minor controversy. The abortion panel of the Royal Swedish Medical Board granted Finkbine's request for an abortion on August 17, 1962, to safeguard her mental health.[12] The operation was performed the following day.[1]

The Swedish obstetrician who performed the abortion told Finkbine that the fetus had no legs and only one arm and would not have survived. It was too badly deformed to be identified as a boy or a girl.[13] In 1965, Finkbine had another baby, a healthy girl.[14]

The incident was the subject of additional controversy, due to Finkbine's role as host on the local Phoenix production of the children's television show Romper Room at the time of the termination of her pregnancy. The events became a made-for-TV movie in 1992, A Private Matter, with Sissy Spacek in the leading role.[15]


The termination of Finkbine’s pregnancy is seen now as a pivotal event in the history of abortion rights in the United States.[4] According to Dr. Mary Frances Berry, her story “helped change public opinion [on abortion]. Fifty-two percent of respondents in a Gallup poll thought she had done the right thing.” By 1965, “most Americans, 77 percent, wanted abortion legalized ‘where the health of the mother is in danger’”; in that same year, The New York Times called for reform of abortion laws.[16][17] Planned Parenthood wrote that Finkbine was able to afford going overseas to have the abortion, but many other women seeking to terminate unwanted pregnancies would turn to illegal abortions.[18]

Lee Epstein, a professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California, wrote that “Finkbine’s situation evoked sympathetic reactions from various organizations and in essence, led to the creation of an American abortion reform movement.”[19]


Sherri Finkbine, now Sherri Chessen, has six children from her first marriage and six stepchildren from a later marriage. From September to December 1970, Chessen had her own one-hour variety show on KPAZ in Phoenix. In the 1990s she did voice acting for cartoons and wrote two children’s books to address the issues of gun violence and bullying.[4]


  1. ^ a b (19 August 1962) Mrs. Finkbine Undergoes Abortion In Sweden, New York Times ("The 30 year old mother four healthy children was informed after the operation that the fetus was deformed, as she had feared.")
  2. ^ Becker, Bill (25 July 1962). Abortion to Bar Defective Birth Is Facing Legal Snag in Arizona, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  3. ^ a b 'Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court's Ruling'[Kaplan Publishing], 2010, pgs. 11-18.
  4. ^ a b c d "Sherri Finkbine’s Abortion: Its Meaning 50 Years Later" [Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona], 15 August 2012,
  5. ^ (31 July 1962). Mother Loses Round in Legal Battle for Abortion; Arizona Court Dismisses Suit for Prosecution Immunity, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  6. ^ (26 July 1962). Abortion Suit is Filed, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  7. ^ (28 June 1962). Phoenix Abortion Ruling Delayed, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  8. ^ Buck, Jerry (18 June 1992) HBO films explores 'A Private Matter', Wilmington Morning Star, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  9. ^ McBride, Dorothy E. (2008). Abortion in the United States: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 142.
  10. ^ (5 August 1962) (AP Story).U.S. Mother Seeks Aid From Sweden, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  11. ^ Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Archived 2006-11-01 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Wiskari, Werner (18 August 1962). Sweden Accedes To Abortion Plea, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  13. ^ White, James E. (2008). Contemporary moral problems. Cengage Learning. p. 147.
  14. ^ (1 February 1965)Mrs. Finkbine Gives Birth To Fifth Child in Arizona, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  15. ^ Tucker, Ken (19 June 1992). A Private Matter, Entertainment Weekly, Retrieved November 16, 2010
  16. ^ "The Pig Farmer’s Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice: Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts from 1865 to the Present" by Mary Frances Berry, 11 April 2000, Random House
  17. ^ "Click - Debating Reproductive Rights - Reproductive Rights and Feminism, History of Abortion Battle, History of Abortion Debate, Roe v. Wade and Feminists". Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  18. ^ "Sherri Finkbine's Abortion: Its Meaning 50 Years Later". Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  19. ^ "The Impact of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project", 1981,[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]