Sherri Finkbine (born Sherri Chessen in 1932) is an American television actress.
Finkbine was known as Miss Sherri on the local Phoenix, Arizona, version of the franchised children's show, Romper Room. The Finkbine Case began in London, England, in 1961, when her husband was chaperoning sixty-four high school students on a European tour. He obtained some Thalidomide and carried the remainder home. Finkbine took thirty-six of the pills in the early stages of her pregnancy. Neither she nor her husband was aware until July 1962 that the pills contained Thalidomide.
In 1962, when Finkbine was pregnant with her fifth child, she had been taking Thalidomide, a drug which if taken by a pregnant woman, causes the fetus(es) within her to become deformed while in utero. Finkbine's physician[who?] strongly recommended that she obtain a therapeutic abortion, the only type of abortion that was permitted in Arizona at the time. Finkbine contacted a friend at the Arizona Republic to tell her story, so that other women who were taking Thalidomide would be warned. Although Finkbine had been assured anonymity, her identity was not kept secret.
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. When such assurance was not forthcoming, the scheduled abortion was canceled. When Finkbine's physician asked for a court order to proceed with the abortion, Finkbine and her husband became public figures, receiving letters and phone calls in opposition to her requested abortion. A few letters included death threats, and the FBI was brought in to protect her. She also lost her job at the TV station. Finkbine’s case was dismissed by Judge Yale McFate, who found that he didn’t have the authority to make a decision on the matter.
Finkbine attempted to go to Japan to obtain the abortion, but was denied a visa by the Japanese Consul. 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. The operation was performed the following day.
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. In 1965, Finkbine had another baby, a healthy girl.
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.
The termination of Finkbine’s pregnancy is seen now as a pivotal event in the history of abortion rights in the United States. According to Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Finkbine’s 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.
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.”
Sherri Finkbine, now Sherri Chessen, had six children from her first marriage and six stepchildren from a later marriage. In the 1990s she did voice acting for cartoons and wrote two children’s books to address the issues of gun violence and bullying.
- (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.")
- Becker, Bill (25 July 1962). Abortion to Bar Defective Birth Is Facing Legal Snag in Arizona, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- 'Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court's Ruling'[Kaplan Publishing], 2010, pgs. 11-18.
- "Sherri Finkbine’s Abortion: Its Meaning 50 Years Later" [Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona], 15 August 2012, http://blog.advocatesaz.org/2012/08/15/sherri-finkbines-abortion-its-meaning-50-years-later/
- (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
- (26 July 1962). Abortion Suit is Filed, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- (28 June 1962). Phoenix Abortion Ruling Delayed, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- Buck, Jerry (18 June 1992) HBO films explores 'A Private Matter', Wilmington Morning Star, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- McBride, Dorothy E. (2008). Abortion in the United States: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 142.
- (5 August 1962) (AP Story).U.S. Mother Seeks Aid From Sweden, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
- Wiskari, Werner (18 August 1962). Sweden Accedes To Abortion Plea, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- White, James E. (2008). Contemporary moral problems. Cengage Learning. p. 147.
- (1 February 1965)Mrs. Finkbine Gives Birth To Fifth Child in Arizona, The New York Times, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- Tucker, Ken (19 June 1992). A Private Matter, Entertainment Weekly, Retrieved November 16, 2010
- "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
- "The Impact of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project", 1981, http://epstein.law.northwestern.edu/research/conferencepapers.1981MPSA.pdf