I've been adding to the Cemetery of Choice, a few deaths from old news clippings, but a whole batch from the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database. Either I'd missed a bunch before, or a whole slew have been added.
What's odd is that it tends to be supporters of legal abortion who get all snotty with me about how far back in time I go when researching abortion deaths. I'd expected that their response would be to try to focus my attention on the older ones, to challenge me with something akin to, "How can you look at all that carnage from criminal abortions and not appreciate how much better safe, legal abortion is?" But by and large, they don't, possibly because of how indistinguishable so many of these deaths are from the nice sanitary safe-n-legal kind.
I don't think I've ever gotten a single criticism from prolifers for listing all the illegal abortion deaths -- stories that, after all, short sighted abortion supporters could use as ammunition in a debate with somebody who isn't very well educated about criminal abortion. The prolifers might be bewildered, but they're never outraged.
What I have gotten from both sides is "Why do you do it?" To which I'd answer, "Why does Adrian Monk touch parking meters?" It's a compulsion. A bizarre, ghoulish compulsion. I said it to a reporter who considered it worth putting in print: "My ministry is to the dead." All of these women died because of an idea -- the idea that women and their unborn children are mortal enemies, that a baby's death can be a boon to its mother. And that idea, if it's true... well, to paraphrase Jeremy Irons in The Mission, if that's true, then might really does make right and love has no place in the world. And I don't think I have the strength to live in a world like that.
It's been a learning experience, that's for sure. I started out the project very naive, thinking that quack abortionists were swiftly and surely locked up in the olden days. There's nothing quite like digging into the past to dispel that illusion. Chicago, in particular, seemed to have run a revolving-door justice system in which abortionists who killed their patients were scolded, locked up long enough to lull the public into a sense of security, then set free to ply their trade again.
Digging up the past has done a lot to convince me that both sides are misinformed and working toward a cure that is an illusion. The prochoicers see the past as an endless vista of coathanger-impaled women who would have lived and thrived had there just been legal permission for doctors to rid them of their unwanted fetuses, and the present as an era of competent and compassionate "providers" of "vital reproductive health care services". All that's necessary, in their eyes, is to throw enough contraceptives around, with abortion as a backup, and all will be rosy. The prolifers tend to see the past as a golden age in which abortion was virtually non-existent, to which we could quickly return if only we could pass a personhood amendment.
Both sides are wrong in their assessments.
There were gruesome, horrible abortions back in the bad old days. But there are gruesome, horrible abortions now. Legalizing abortion did nothing to change the kinds of people who are attracted to the business. As abortion advocate Magda Denes noted, "Reknown is no guarantee of skill. Skill is no safeguard aginst cruelty. Patients are utterly vulnerable to the mental health of their helpers. The helpers should, therefore, be watched like potential enemies." And it's in the abortion supporters' self-interest to heed Denes' words. Every instance of quackery is, after all, ammo for the enemy to argue that legal abortion ain't all it's cracked up to be.
But contrariwise, prolifers need to grasp that recriminalizing abortion won't stop it. It will only limit it. As long as the idea is put forth in respectable circles that abortion is palliative, many women will resort to it. We need to ask ourselves what our goal is -- to punish abortion, or to reduce it to an absolute irreducible minimum.
Prochoicers act as if the morality is unclear, but the solution is clear: lots of contraceptives with abortion as a backup. But they're wrong. The morality is clear: any society that drives woman to kill their own children is a seriously screwed up society that needs fixing; it's the solution that's unclear. We ridicule the abortion supporter for the simple, one-size-fits-all solution of abortion to all social, emotional, and medical dilemmas for the pregnant women. But we're equally over-simplistic when we present criminalization as a simple, one-size-fits-all solution.
This post is highly unsatisfactory to me. I like to have a nice, clean, simple thing to say. And I don't. All I can do is share my dismay and bewilderment when I ponder how we can ever cut through all the muddle and build a society where mothers and their unborn children aren't pitted against each other as if they're natural rivals instead of natural allies.