Thursday, December 25, 2008

A gruesome Christmas discovery

On Christmas day of 1934, the nude body of a young woman was found in a thicket near a highway south of New York City. She had been dead between 12 and 24 hours.

Laura and Joseph Devine, whose 19-year-old daughter, Loretta Wilson, had been missing since December 19, contacted authorities and were able to positively identify the body. Loretta had left home at noon on the 19th, telling the landlady that she was going to see a doctor. Loretta's family had reported her missing on the 20th.

When an autopsy revealed the cause of death as abortion, Loretta's husband of two years indicated that he had not even been aware that Loretta was pregnant.

Dr. John H. Becker Jr., who admitted to having examined Loretta on December 17, was charged with homicide in the death. He denied performing the abortion.

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

In deference to SoMG, who wants to know what the point is in describing specific abortion deaths:

I'd like prochoicers to note that, contrary to popular belief, illegal abortion was not endless vistas of bloody coathangers. It was largely the purview of doctors. We can speculate about whether or not Loretta would have died if abortion had been legal, but we need to do so in the context of medical care overall in the 1930s, which was pretty dismal, seeing as it predated antibiotics and blood transfusions. We also need to do so in the context of modern legal abortion, which isn't exactly a picture of competence and conscientious practice. If the goal of legalization is to prevent deaths, we need to look at why women died and why they continue to die, and not just assume that abortion's legal status is the deciding factor.

I'd like prolifers to note that, contrary to popular belief, criminalizing abortion wasn't in itself enough to keep even a married woman from resorting to it -- and sometimes without going to her parents or husband. If we want to prevent abortions, we need to understand the dynamics that put women like Loretta on the abortion table in spite of the clear risks. And we need to stop assuming that abortion's legal status is the deciding factor.

Is that better, SoMG?

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Anonymous said...

I think this is an excellent post and I would love it if you start writing about what led to these women to a place where they were prepeare to take such a huge risk to life by getting on an unknown abortionists table. How and why were they so desperate for an abortion? Also, how have the reasons changed and why do women going for abortions not research their abortionists in depth to ensure they don't end up going to quacks?


Christina Dunigan said...

I"ll have to look it up -- there was an excellent book that looked into the main reasons women sought abortions prior to legalization. He was looking at large population, mind you, but his conclusions were that there were three main groups of women seeking abortions:

1. Prostitutes. They had little choice in the matter. The early feminists started safe houses to help women escape prostitution.

2. The seduced and abandoned. Basically girls who believed the promise that the guy would marry them if they got pregnant, only to find out that no, he had no intentions of marriage. With unmarried pregnancy such a huge scandal and shame, abortion would seem to be the only way out. Again, the early feminists opened homes for them to give them an alternative to being left on the streets.

3. The upper-crust intelligencia class for whom abortion was a means of facilitating "free love". Not much you can do to dissuade THIS group.

We also have to keep in mind that back then, ANY pregnancy was a risk to life, so abortion wasn't such a massive risk compared to carrying to term. It was just massively riskier than a similar choice in the days of blood transfusions and antibiotics.

Frederica Matthews-Green did a "Real Choices" survey back in the 1990s about why women end up having abortions, and the one thing that leaped out at her came as a surprise. She expected tales of financial woes or other hardships, but what she found most of all was a feeling of being alone -- of facing the pregnancy with no support.

As for why they don't do any research, I think there's a perception that if it's legal, it must be licensed and therefore safe. And even if the woman "does her homework", the most likely course is that she'll call Planned Parenthood or the National Abortion Federation looking for a referral -- fat load of good that will do.

Also, some women in movements like "Silent No More" report that they at some level felt like since they were killing their babies, they didn't deserve to be treated respectfully and given good care. If the place was seedy and the staff nasty and/or incompetent, that seemed to just fit perfectly into how an abortion ought to be.

Another factor even if the woman does go to a place that is practicing conscientiously according to current standards of care is that they seem unable to internalize, or to care about, the fact that there really are risks and that they need to seek aftercare promptly. I listened to a conclave of NAF nurses lamenting this -- that women would "tough it out" and not seek prompt help. At LIfe Dynamics, when we dealt with abortion injured women, we saw the following reasons for this:

1. The abortion had been so traumatic that she didn't want to do anything that would revisit it emotionally. That might include contact with/visits to the abortion facility, the prospect of discussing the abortion with anybody, the idea of getting into that physical position again and reliving the anguish.

2. She wanted to keep the abortion a secret, and seeking aftercare was risking that others would learn about the abortion.

3. She didn't really believe it could be anything serious after a safe, legal abortion.

4. She felt the injury was punishment that she deserved for having killed her baby.

5. She couldn't afford aftercare and didn't realize that she could get help with the medical bills.

6. The clinic staff had reassured her that her symptoms were nothing to be concerned about.

More than one of these factors could be present in any one woman.

A lot of these were factors in why a lot of women don't sue after they're injured, and why they seldom report quackery to the medical board. A lot of prolifers that called us when we were doing research for "Lime 5" reported some pretty appalling injuries, but they couldn't even get the woman to report the guy to the medical board for the reasons listed above.

What's interesting, though, is that often once the first woman speaks out and the news breaks, others come out in droves reporting similar injuries. A lot of them think they're the only one.

Anonymous said...

LIME 5. What a joke. You can get it on AMAZON for less than fifty cents and Crutcher is giving copies away free by the crate.

He sets out to tar the US abortion "industry" and actually shows by the small number of disasters he manages to document (even with a dedicated research team and going back to the 1960s) that the US abortion industry is very safe.