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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac screens ‘Connie Cook: A Documentary’ to spotlight pre-Roe abortion activist

Benjamin Yeargin
Sue Perlgut (right), the director of the movie “Connie Cook: A Documentary,” and Maya Doyle, associate professor of social work and medical sciences, answer questions after the screening of the movie on March 28.

In 1965, 21-year-old Sue Perlgut had an illegal abortion. The procedure was sketchy, unsafe and expensive — it cost her $700 of her $3,000 annual salary. For context, $700 in 1965 would be worth roughly $6,900 today.

“I felt shame because I had to do it illegally,” Perlgut said. “I never want another woman to go through an illegal abortion and go through what I went through.”

It happened five years before the state of New York legalized abortion, and eight years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade gave women the right to abortion.

In the modern day, where a different term of the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, Perlgut and five Quinnipiac University departments presented her film, “Connie Cook: A Documentary,” at the North Haven Campus on March 28.

“I’m thrilled to be able to bring this here,” said Maya Doyle, associate professor of social work and medical sciences. “Wherever we work in healthcare, we are going to encounter folks facing challenging decisions around pregnancy and parenting.”

The film focused entirely on Cook, who was a Republican assemblywoman that represented Tompkins County in New York. She served on the New York State Assembly from 1963-1974, one of three women in the Assembly during that time.

Prior to that, Cook earned an undergraduate and law degree from Cornell University. She also won the Fulbright Scholarship and traveled around Europe for two years, before returning to New York and getting married. She had two children, a boy and a girl.

So why did the department of social work, center for interprofessional healthcare education, the women’s and gender’s studies department and the two North Haven libraries come together to show this film?

It’s because of Cook’s legacy of supporting human rights.

In 1970, Cook authored a bill decriminalizing abortions in New York, making them safer and more widely available to women. Former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed it into law that same year.

Three years later, the Supreme Court used the language in the law — most of which was Cook’s writing — to rule in favor of Roe v. Wade.

Cook, who went on to become the first female vice president of Cornell, also advocated for female priests to be ordained and accepted into the American Episcopalian Church. She sued the Episcopal Church — and won.

Following the screening, Perlgut and Doyle held a panel to discuss the film and answer questions from those in attendance.

With only 15 people in a room that fits 160 – about half of whom were students – the conversation focused on activism, the state of abortion today, the Supreme Court and Perlgut’s approach to making this film.

Even though most students in the room were required to attend the talk for a class, they still got something out of it.

“Abortion is such a taboo topic,” said Ty Veloso, a second-year master of social work student. “I want to learn more about abortion rights and women’s rights, and how I can help advocate in the future.”

Perlgut spent six years making the film, beginning in 2009 when she attended Cook’s memorial service. Cook’s story nestled itself inside Perlgut’s mind, where it remains 15 years later.

“Usually, when I make a film, I make the film, show the film, promote the film and I move on to the next project,” Perlgut said. “I did briefly with Connie Cook, but she kept coming back.”

The film was released in 2015, yet Perlgut is still advocating and promoting it today like it is brand new. Quinnipiac was the third college in three days that the 80 year old had visited to promote “Connie Cook: A Documentary.”

“I want to bring this film everywhere,” Perlgut said.

She believes it remains important to view amid the current circumstances around bodily autonomy.

In June 2022, the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade. Across the U.S., 21 states have fully banned abortion with another seven posting partial bans.

Connie Cook’s legacy is chock full of accomplishments, but her most resounding accomplishment — her legislation — still makes waves today, not because of its presence, but its lack thereof.

“She keeps me motivated,” Perlgut said.

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