Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Possible Lead Out of the Prochoice Information Eddy

Image making the abortion-rights rounds
There's a "Stop the War on Women" graphic making the rounds that displays sheets of paper, each with a picture and summary about a woman purportedly killed by anti-abortion laws. Each paper is garnished with a wire coat hanger, as if that even needs to be said.

The most prominent photo in the graphic is that of Pauline Roberson Shirley.

According to an endless plethora of abortion-rights web sites, Pauline Roberson Shirley was a 29-year-old married mother of six. She and the children, according to these sites, were living with her mother in Arizona while her husband was looking for work in California. 

Nobody gives any details of the illegal abortion that Pauline reportedly underwent. Nothing. Zilch. Not a date, not a method, not a perpetrator.

All of the sites, however, say that she was hospitalized for hemorrhage afterward and in need of transfusions. They say that Pauline's mother was looking for donors for the needed blood when Pauline bled to death on August 22, 1940.

Anybody who has visited my Cemetery of Choice knows that I am fanatical about substantiating documents and sources. I provide links, clippings, references -- anything I can find. And every year, on August 22, I search anew for information about the death of Pauline Roberson Shirley. So far, all I've been able to find is a birth record on for a Pauline Roberson who was born in Texas on August 27, 1910, which would make her the right age. The trouble with this is that the prochoice sources give Pauline's birth date as June 22, 1910, so I'm left without any independent verification about Pauline Roberson Shirley whatsoever.

I've been unable to find any contemporary news clippings, death records, or anything further. Search after search finds only one prochoice site after the other repeating, usually verbatim, the same few tidbits I've included on my page about Pauline's death.

Pauline Roberson Shirley has become trapped in a swirling eddy of re-re-re-re-reiterations of the same unsourced claim.

I MIGHT have found the original prochoice source: A Google Book search yielded a link to Women of Power - Issues 18-22 - Page 51.

The preview looked promising. It read:
PAULINE ROBERSON SHIRLEY, born June 22, 1910, mother of five children, died August 22, 1940, after an illegal abortion that caused hemorrhaging -- hospitalized, she bled to death while her mother was searching the community for...
Clicking the link, however, brought only disappointment. It offers nothing but an image from inside the book, showing text reading in its entirety:
some of them, wife-batterers or careless impregnators, [secretly paying for their mistress' abortions], mouthing a hypocritical concern for "the unborn" they do

contraception, subjected to pregnancy checks, and compelled by the state to bear at least four children whom they had no means to feed or support, sixty percent of all pregnancies ended in abortion
It offers no information whatsoever about Pauline.

The bit of information on the Google search page matches the prochoice sites, other than the number of children she had. I believe that this "Women of Power" is probably the original source document that was used to move Pauline's story from an obscure publication to widespread abortion-rights awareness.

Happily I followed the link on the Google Books page and learned that "Women of Power" is in some library collections. I'd be very grateful to anybody who could find a copy someplace near them and send me a picture of the page with the information about Pauline on it -- plus, if possible, the source material, if any, that "Women of Power" cites.

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