Monday, December 15, 2008

Abortion deaths in the 1960's

The CDC doesn't publish abortion mortality data prior to 1972, but I made this chart from information Physicians for Life got from the National Center for Health Statistics. I've assessed elsewhere how accurate the data are, looking at an intensive study in Minnesota and another in California, and though they're not 100% complete, they're not radically off, and the trends (falling except for the 1950s) are accurate.

With that said, here's the chart. Legal abortion deaths are orange, illegal abortion deaths are purple. The top line is the total of both legal and illegal.

I'm not sure why abortion mortality went up from 1956 to 1961. What I do know is that there were no changes in abortion law to account for the plunge after 1961. This is actually the resumption of a trend that had been in place prior to 1950. The slight upturn from 1968-1970 coincides with the slight loosening of abortion laws in several states, but it seems unlikely that there is a connection; the trend went back down again and resumed its old fall with the legalization of abortion on demand in California and New York in 1970.

Here are the abortion deaths I know of during the 1960s. I didn't choose these particular stories to make a particular point; if I find out about an abortion death, I write it up.

  • January 21, 1961: Vivian Grant died from complications of an abortion Dr. Mandel M. Friedman performed on her. Doubly tragic is the fact that the autopsy found that Vivian hadn't actually been pregnant in the first place.

  • July 23, 1961: Erica Peterson was in an iron lung, gravely ill, when doctors got permission from her husband to perform the abortion that ended her life.

  • March 25, 1962: Jolene Griffith leaves three children motherless after an abortion performed by osteopath J. Bryan Henrie.

  • June 3, 1962: Barbara Lofrumento got chopped up and put down the garbage disposal when she died of abortion complications in Dr. Harvey Lothringer's office.

  • September 11, 1962: Barbara Covington, a wealthy socialite, died after an abortion performed by Dr. Mandel M. Friedman while he was out on bail pending prosecution for the death of Vivian Grant.

  • 1964: Elva Lozada died in a California hospital from complications of a legal abortion.

  • June 4, 1964: Geraldine Santoro, poster child for the abortion lobby, was left to die on a motel room floor by her married lover, who was performing an abortion using instruments and medical books he had borrowed from a doctor who was married to one of his co-workers.

  • December 4, 1965: Rita Shea dies in a motel room during an abortion performed by medical student Benjamin Lockhart.

  • February 8, 1968: Nancy Ward travelled from Oklahoma to Missouri for an abortion performed by Dr. Richard Mucie at his ear, nose, and throat clinic. Her abortion was retroactively declared legal after Roe.

  • April 13, 1968: Stella Saenz went septic from a legal abortion, then had an allergic reaction to the penicillin she was given to treat it.

  • April 6, 1969: Catherine Barnard died after an abortion performed by Dr. Virgil Jobe.

  • August 16, 1969: Cheryl Vosseler died from complications of an abortion performed at Fresno General Hospital.

    Here is the breakdown of who performed these fatal abortions:

  • Physician - 83.33%
  • Other medical professional - 8.33%
  • Amateur - 8.33%

    Of the abortions performed by doctors, 4 of them (40%) were the safe, legal kind, performed in hospitals. That's 30% of the total deaths I've gotten information about for the 1960s.

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

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