Sunday, November 09, 2008

Abortion in the 1950s

One odd thing is that for all that the 1950s is viewed as a sexually repressed era, it's the only decade in the entire pre-legalization era of the 20th Century that didn't follow the trend of rapidly declining abortion mortality:

As you can see, the downward trend slowed, then reversed itself, before the fall resumed at around 1960. I'm wondering if there was some change in the data collection during that period. The Pill wasn't introduced yet, so we weren't looking at a Pill-provoked increase in sexual activity leading to an increase in unintended pregnancies. Thalidomide and Rubella weren't yet on the radar to be leading to a surge in eugenic abortions with a resulting surge in maternal deaths from those abortions. Any other theories?

While we ponder that, we can look at some examples of this, for now, inexplicable blip in the otherwise consistently improving maternal mortality:

  • Vivian Campbell: What little I know about her came from a National Organization for Women web site that, predictably, doesn't cite its sources. We're just supposed to take their word for it.
  • Joy Joy, the unmarried mother of a 6-year-old child, bled to death.

  • Isabell Cuda was a married mother.
  • Betty Hellman got pregnant by another man while her husband was stationed overseas.

  • Joyce Chorney found a doctor to perform the abortion that killed her.

  • Betty Ladel evidently went to a naturopath for her fatal abortion.
  • Gertrude Pinsky was found dead in a raid on an abortion ring run by several doctors and other medical professionals.
  • Ozelia Skains died at the hands of a chiropractor.
  • Virginia Watson had been on the Olympic swimming team with Esther Williams, and had sought an abortion to try to have a similar career in film.

  • Joyce Johnson died from an abortion performed by prochoice icon Harvey Karman in a motel room.
  • Doris Ostreicher was an heiress whose mother arranged an illegal abortion for her.
  • Jacqueline Smith died when her boyfriend arranged for a scrub nurse to perform her abortion. They cut her body up, wrapped the pieces in Christmas paper, and threw them away in public trash cans.

  • Mary Davies died during an abortion by Dr. Robert Spencer, a hero of the prochoice movement.

  • Alice Kimberly went to a veterinarian for her illegal abortion.

  • Georgia Lee Cody died after an abortion by an unknown perpetrator.

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

    To email this post to a friend, use the icon below.

    Kathy said...

    I have a couple of theories. The first is that there was possibly an increase in so-called "therapeutic" abortions, as doctors and women became more aware that there were certain indications or complications in pregnancy that increased the risk of death of the mother or death or deformity of the fetus. For instance, I know that many times women who contracted German measles were counseled to abort because their baby may have been deformed by the virus. Fwiw, one of my uncles was one of these babies -- I don't know if my Grandma was counseled to abort, but she did think he was mentally retarded until it was finally discovered that he was just deaf (he can hear with a hearing aid). He was also rendered sterile by the disease he encountered as a fetus, and is a diabetic. So, yeah, he has problems, but none worth killing him for. There may have been other similar diseases which women were told (truthfully or not) might cause their babies to be deformed so they chose abortions, legal or not, "therapeutic" in their minds or not.

    The other theory which I think is probably more likely is the release of The Kinsey Report, which laid the foundation for the sexual revolution of the 60s -- it was released in 1948 (the men) and 1953 (the women). Although it has been discovered that there were **significant** problems with the collection of data and the biases of the "researchers" in this report, at the time it was taken as accurate -- and even today many people who should know better just accept it as valid. (Some of these inaccuracies include counting prostitutes who lived with their pimps as being married -- obviously skewing the statistics of women who were not virgins when they got married, among other things; and having a very high percentage of men in prison [including those imprisoned for sexual crimes]; and other similar things in which such people were presented as being "the norm" when in fact they were on the fringe.) When the Report showed that such-and-such percentage of men or women had engaged in pre-marital or extra-marital sex, or homosexual sex, or viewed pornography, or had multiple sex partners, it made a lot of people believe that it was accurate, and made them begin to jump over the societal bounds placed on sex. While it didn't happen en masse until the 60s, when the Baby Boomers got into their teens and began caving into their hormones which previous generations had been successfully taught to control, the Kinsey Report undoubtedly weakened the social mores of the 50s, as many women began to act on the inaccurate findings of the Kinsey Report. After all, if X% of women really and truthfully had sex before they were married (which the KR said, making society look hypocritical for gasping in horror when a girl came up pregnant before marriage), then why shouldn't they give into their hormones and their boyfriends. But it was all a pack of lies.

    Christina Dunigan said...

    I thought of Rubella too, but the Rubella pandemic wasn't until the mid-1960s.

    The Kinsey report, plus the launching of Playboy, may have had an impact, but they don't seem enough to account for it.

    Or it could be things plateaued because once you had effective antibiotics and blood transfusions, things leveled off until the next wave of medical technology to kick in.

    It could be just a bunch of factors came together. Who knows?