Sunday, March 08, 2009

Historic abortion death from 1889

Twenty-two-year-old Miss Bellville died Friday, March 8, 1889, from complications of an attempted abortion. "Her death aroused increased excitement in Astoria."

A week before her death, Miss Bellville made a deathbed statement that Arthur B. Roosa had helped her to abort another pregnancy the previous June, "furnishing the instrument and instructing her in its use".

Roosa, Miss Bellville said, was the father of both aborted children. He had not helped her with the second, fatal abortion. News coverage attempted to quell rumors that any local physicians, or any party other than Miss Bellville herself, "had any part in this criminal act."

I would appreciate any help in deciphering the jargon in the article that states: "On the other side it can be shown that the girl has been 'unfortunate' on three former occasions, and that some three other men have paid sums of money at her suit as being each the author of these respective troubles." I take this to mean that she had sued three men prior to her involvement with Roosa for "seducing" her and "inducing" her to abort these pregnancies.

Miss Bellville had been blind for four years, though what role this played in her troubles is not in any way spelled out or speculated upon in the news coverage of her death.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


Kathy said...

I doubt that "suit" means lawsuit -- I think it just means that she got knocked up by three different men (or told them she did), and they paid for her abortion at her request. I'm basing this on reading numerous classics like Jane Austen's works -- it just sounds like an older use of the word than we're accustomed to. But I checked it out on OneLook dictionary, and it has a "quick definition" of suit that says, "a petition or appeal made to a person of superior status or rank," which would be the way I think this word is used in this case.

GrannyGrump said...

I've seen lawsuits on Westlaw, though, when the woman sued the man who got her pregnant, generally for failing to follow through on a promised marriage.

Kathy said...

In reading this all again and again, in context, it looks like the newspapers were trying to decide whether or not any local doctors or anyone else was a party to the abortion. On the one side, they were saying that there didn't appear to be any evidence linking a doctor to the abortions, but "on the other side it can be shown..." that this girl had had three prior abortions, with sums of money given her by the putative fathers. Was this money "hush money"? blackmail? paying her off to do a somewhat risk self-abortion rather than bring the baby to term? or was it "on the other hand" money given to doctor(s) to perform the abortions?

It almost sounds like the papers were exploring this last possibility -- why pay money to a pregnant girl to get an abortion if the abortion were free -- a "do it yourself" job? Would not money only be required to pay someone else to perform the abortion?

Also, why would a woman sue a man in order to get money to pay for an illegal abortion? That almost sounds like calling the cops on your drug dealer for selling you baking soda instead of cocaine. If you're doing something illicit, you wouldn't want to bring attention to that activity by getting involved in the legal system.