On October 25, 1922, 24-year-old homemaker Lillian Hulbert died at Chicago's St. Anne's Hospital from complications of a criminal abortion performed on her there that day. The coroner identified a Mrs. M.C. Anderson as responsible for Lillian's death. Anderson's profession is given as nurse or midwife.
Abortion rights groups will blame the deaths of women like Lillian on
the legal status of abortion at the time. Seeking out a midwife, ad
Lillian did, rather than a doctor, wasn't because of abortion's
illegality but because women of that era often went to midwives rather
than doctors for all of their obstetric and gynecological issues.
activists also forget that all surgery, including induced abortion, was
riskier in the pre-legalization days. As the 20th century progressed,
all maternal mortality, including abortion mortality, fell as medical
care improved. Antibiotics
and blood transfusions -- along with overall better health due to
increasing prosperity -- deserve the credit for falling mortality, which was hardly caused retroactively by the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling striking down all the nation's abortion laws.
No doubt there was quackery prior to legalization -- but such quackery persists today.
Removing the threat of jail for any but the most egregious behavior
does not provide motivation to run a tight ship. Three erstwhile
criminal abortionists that I know of -- Benjamin Munson, Milan Vuitch, and Jesse Ketchum
-- didn't lose a single abortion patient until after legalization made
them less fearful of repercussions and thus far more careless. Each went
on to kill two legal abortion patients, not out of simple surgical
complications, but due to appalling quackery.
It's time we got real about how little is different between illegal and
legal abortion practice: the main difference is how much risk of being
shut down or sent to prison the safe-and-legal abortionist faces.