On Christmas day of 1934, the nude body of a young woman was found in a thicket near a highway south of New York City. She had been dead between 12 and 24 hours.
Laura and Joseph Devine, whose 19-year-old daughter, Loretta Wilson, had been missing since December 19, contacted authorities and were able to positively identify the body. Loretta had left home at noon on the 19th, telling the landlady that she was going to see a doctor. Loretta's family had reported her missing on the 20th.
When an autopsy revealed the cause of death as abortion, Loretta's husband of two years indicated that he had not even been aware that Loretta was pregnant.
Dr. John H. Becker Jr., who admitted to having examined Loretta on December 17, was charged with homicide in the death. He denied performing the abortion.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
In deference to SoMG, who wants to know what the point is in describing specific abortion deaths:
I'd like prochoicers to note that, contrary to popular belief, illegal abortion was not endless vistas of bloody coathangers. It was largely the purview of doctors. We can speculate about whether or not Loretta would have died if abortion had been legal, but we need to do so in the context of medical care overall in the 1930s, which was pretty dismal, seeing as it predated antibiotics and blood transfusions. We also need to do so in the context of modern legal abortion, which isn't exactly a picture of competence and conscientious practice. If the goal of legalization is to prevent deaths, we need to look at why women died and why they continue to die, and not just assume that abortion's legal status is the deciding factor.
I'd like prolifers to note that, contrary to popular belief, criminalizing abortion wasn't in itself enough to keep even a married woman from resorting to it -- and sometimes without going to her parents or husband. If we want to prevent abortions, we need to understand the dynamics that put women like Loretta on the abortion table in spite of the clear risks. And we need to stop assuming that abortion's legal status is the deciding factor.
Is that better, SoMG?
To email this post to a friend, use the icon below.