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Read This First:
How can you know how much you can trust what you are told by a prolife or prochoice organization's communications? How do you know if what a web site or newsletter says is accurate or not?
There is one easy rule to follow: Truthful sites provide reliable sources for their information.
As you look over the information on the Cemetery of Choice, you'll find that whenever possible, I provide either links to information or actual copies of documents such as news articles and death certificates. In other cases, I at least cite my sources in a way that they can be researched and verified.
Are other sources as reliable? Do they tell you where they got the information upon which they are basing their claims? If they don't, why not?
If there are conflicting claims, such as prolife versus prochoice assertions about the death of
, check to see which site provides more reliable sources. In Becky's case, prochoice sites provide only assertions made by other abortion rights organizations or statements made by Becky's parents, who were recruited and coached by abortion-rights organizations. Prolife sites typically quote a crucial source: Becky's actual autopsy report,* which shows her reproductive organs to be perfectly healthy. Which sources can you trust?
Consider also the case of
. Prochoice pages typically post the following unsubstantiated story verbatim:
Pauline Shirley and her six children were living with her mother in Arizona while her husband sought work in California. After an illegal abortion, she began to hemorrhage and was hospitalized. She needed massive transfusions. While Pauline’s mother searched the community for donors, Pauline bled to death.
I looked deeper and found an original and reliable source: Pauline's death certificate, which indicated that she died not from an induced abortion but from a miscarriage. Perhaps a family member saw "incomplete abortion, spontaneous" and didn't understand that a spontaneous abortion is the medical term for a miscarriage. My write-up of Pauline's death actually includes an image of the death certificate. Whose word is more trustworthy: the one based on the actual death certificate, or the unsubstantiated one repeated uncritically?
Never, never take anything you are told without question. Check the original sources.
*I read Becky Bell's autopsy report myself shortly after abortion-rights groups began taking them on speaking engagements around the country. I'm still trying to find an online copy and as soon as I find one I will share it, as I share my other sources.
illegal - doctor
SUMMARY: Doris Alexander, age 30, died April 20, 1938 from an illegal abortion performed by Dr. Clinton May in San Francisco, CA.
Dr. Clinton E. May had crossed paths with the law when he harbored John Dillinger. In an apparent attempt to keep a low profile, he relocated to California after his release and didn't bother to get licensed to practice medicine, but rather set up housekeeping, and an abortion practice, with a woman in San Francisco using the aliases Cy Dalton and Miss Ralston, Sometimes May introduced "Miss Ralston" as his sister.
On April 12, 1939, a woman called St. Joseph's Hospital and anonymously told a doctor there that a woman had suffered uterine damage in an abortion. The doctor said to send the woman to the hospital immediately.
The woman, 30-year-old Doris Jeffreys Alexander, arrived at the hospital in a taxi. She was in critical condition. There, she told hospital staff, her husband, and the police about the abortion. Based on the information Doris had provided, police raided Clinton May's apartment the following day, finding a makeshift operating table, abundant surgical instruments typically used in abortions, and parts of a human fetus of about three or four months of gestation that was not Doris' fetus. (The court records do not explain who it was determined that the fetus was not the one from Doris' abortion.) Inexplicably, the prosecution never followed up on the obvious abortion that must have been perpetrated in order for May to have had the fetus in his apartment.
May was arrested and taken to the hospital, where Doris tentatively identified him. She never mentioned a woman being involved in the abortion.
Doris died on April 20, and police arrested a woman named Frances Zoffel, whom they said was the mysterious "Miss Ralston."
May maintained his innocence of the abortion charges, though he admitted to conspiring with a nurse to practice medicine without a license, though he said that the nurse in question was Evelyn Fontaine and that he didn't even know Zoffel. He said that he was promoting a "feminine hygiene tablet" and treating patients for sexually transmitted diseases.
He said that on April 12 a woman had come to his apartment seeking aftercare for an abortion that another doctor had committed, and that he'd sent the woman to the hospital.
May and Zoffel charged with murder and conspiracy. May was convicted of second-degree murder, Zoffel of conspiracy. Zoffel was able to get a new trial on the grounds that she was not "Miss Ralston" and that there was no evidence linking her to May's practice, although she had been implicated in abortion rings in the past and would be implicated again in the future.
May, left, and Zofell, right
Mrs. Alexander's abortion was typical of pre-legalization abortions in that it was
performed by a physician
Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see
Abortion in the 1930s
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see
The Bad Old Days of Abortion
"Crime Doctor Held in Death" The Oklahoman, Apr. 21, 1938
"Dillinger Doctor, Nurse Convicted," The San Antonio Light, Oct. 27, 1938
"Dillinger Surgeon is Indicted in S. F.," San Mateo Times, May 4, 1938
"Doctor Sent to San Quentin," Oakland Tribune, Oct. 29, 1938
"Dillinger Doctor Faces Prison," Oct. 27, 1938
"Dr. May, Woman To Be Charged," Oakland Tribune, Apr. 21, 1938
"Aid to Dillinger Doctor Sought," Oakland Tribune, Apr. 15, 1938
People v. Zoffel, Crim. No. 2052. First Appellate District, Division One. October 20, 1939
abortionists -- female
abortionists -- male
delay in transport
delay in treatment
district of columbia
former criminal abortionist
illegal - doctor
illegal - midwife
illegal - nurse
illegal - paramedical
illegal - post roe
illegal - unknown
illegal - untrained
national abortion federation
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