On November 26, 1923, 23-year-old Alice Johnson died at Chicago's West End Hospital from a criminal abortion performed there that day. The coroner identified Dr. Lorenz Lapsky as being responsible for Alice's death. Lapsky was indicted by a grand jury for felony murder on December 15.
Alice's abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.
Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like
antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about
abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.
Let's move ahead to 1971. "Monica" was a 31-year-old mother of five. She requested
an abortion when she was 8 weeks pregnant, but the abortion was delayed
about a month in order to address "some health, personal and
administrative problems." Her doctor decided that it was best to simply remove Monica's uterus
with the fetus still in it. The hysterectomy was done under general
anesthesia with no apparent complications. On the second day after surgery, Monica developed fever and nausea, and
had no bowel sounds. The next day she felt unwell and had a distended
abdomen. Six days after the surgery, November 26, 1971, Monica began to scream
and vomit. She reported severe abdominal pain and couldn't see. Within
an hour of the onset of these symptoms, Monica died. The autopsy revealed grim findings. Monica had a severe infection that
had interfered with her bowel function. As she continued to eat but not
to have bowel movements, her bowels backed up, allowing gastric juices
to enter her lungs and begin to digest them. She also had bacteria in
her brain, which may have caused her blindness in the final hour of her
I can't imagine trying to argue that Monica's death was any less horrible than any criminal abortion stories floating around. But what about the claim that, thanks to legal abortion, at least there are fewer horrible deaths every year?
As you can see from the graph below, abortion deaths were falling
dramatically before legalization. This steep fall had been in place for
decades. To argue that legalization lowered abortion mortality simply
isn't supported by the data.