An icon in death, who was Geraldine Santoro in life?
Born Aubust 16, 1935, Gerri's best friend from high school described her as fun-loving, given to playing hookey and getting sent to the principal's office for mischief. Gerri wanted to beat an engaged friend to the altar, so she got married at age 18 to Salvatore "Sam" Santoro, three or four weeks after she had met him at a bus stop.
But Santoro was abusive. Gerri's sister reported often seeing her covered with bruises, and seeing the children beaten with a belt. Santoro reportedly blamed the abuse on sinus problems that gave him headaches that made him irritable, so he moved his little family to California. But the abuse continued. Gerri's daughter later recounted hearing her mother screaming, going into the bedroom, and seeing her father atop Gerri, his hands around her throat. So in 1963, Gerri left Sam Santoro and took their two daughers to live on her family's farm in Coventry, Connectucut.
She got a job at Mansfield State Training School. There she met Clyde Dixon, a 43-year-old married man who worked with her. Gerri spoke to her sister of one day marrying Dixon, fantasizing about how her children could play in his yard and have their own room. The two had an affair, and Gerri got pregnant.
This was in 1964. Sam Santoro announced he was coming from California to visit his daughters. Gerri, 28 years old and six and a half months pregnant, reportedly feared for either for her life, or that she would lose custody of her children.
Gerri asked a friend for some ergot, ostensibly for a another friend. But evidently nothing came of this. Her sister realized Gerri was pregnant, and Gerri asked her, too, for some ergot. But Leona didn't think this was safe and dissuaded her sister from pursuing this avenue. Leona said she managed to pull together about $700 or $750 for Gerri, thinking Gerri could go someplace far way, to an organization like Catholic Charities, to get help.
On June 8, Gerri and Clyde Dixon checked into a motel in Norwich, Connecticut under aliases. The plan was for Dixon, using surgical instruments and a medical textbook he'd gotten from a co-worker at Mansfield State Training School, to perform an abortion. The co-worker had access to the instruments and book because his wife was a physician.
Dixon started the abortion by inserting a catheter into Gerri's uterus. However, Gerri began to hemorrhage. Dixon abandoned her, leaving her to bleed to death. Her body was discovered by a maid the following morning.
Lorena had to go to the hospital to identify her sister's body. The family told the children that their mother had been hit by a car.
Dixon had fled the state. Three days later, out of gas and out of money, he turned himself into police in Morgantown, West Virginia. He pleaded nolo contender to manslaughter and conspiracy to commit abortion, and was sentenced to a year and a day to three years. Police officers who worked the case called this term "negligible". The man who had provided the instruments was also arrested.
It wasn't until after Ms. published the photo that Gerri's daughter, Joannie Griffith, then 17, was shown the picture by her aunt and told the truth of her mother's death. She was outraged at how Ms. was using the photo, saying, "How dare they flaunt this? How dare they take my beautiful mom, my beautiful, beautiful mom, and put this in front of the public eye. And who gave them permission. I was pissed."
The headline in Ms. was "Never Again." Never again, they said, would women die from dangerous abortions as Gerri had died, because the Supreme Court had handed down Roe vs. Wade.
And with that, mainstream feminist interest in women's needless abortion deaths was layed to rest. Only twice since Roe have I noted mainstream feminists upset over a woman's death from abortion. The first time was in 1977, when Rosie Jimenez died from an illegal abortion after being told that the taxpayers would not pay for any more elective abortions for her. The second was in 1988, when Becky Bell died of pneumonia shortly after miscarrying -- and her death was presented, against all evidence to the contrary, as a death from an illegal abortion.
Women continue to die horrible deaths. They were already dying horrible deaths from legal abortions even before Roe.
But those deaths aren't politically useful. It's hard to make much of a political or social case for how much of a blessing "safe and legal" abortion is when
None of those deaths sparked any outrage from the self-appointed advocates for women's lives and safety. But they remain in a lather over Gerri Santoro, shouting "Never again!"