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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
April 20, 1933, 22-year-old Mary Agnes McNeil died in Seattle, Washington from an abortion perpetrated by Dr. E. T. Martin.
In Seattle, Washington in February of 1933, a 22-year-old unmarried grocery store clerk discovered that she was pregnant. I had originally called her "Nina," but further research indicates that her name was Mary Agnes McNeil.
Vintage abortion pills
Mary informed her boyfriend of the pregnancy, and he got her some pills supposed to cause an abortion, but they didn't work. In March, the boyfriend got a drug called "duray." Mary took some in March and the rest on April 3 or 4, but this still didn't produce the desired abortion.
Mary's co-workers and friends didn't know that she was pregnant, and they later testified that she'd been in good health except for a headache and indigestion some time between April 7 and 10.
On April 8, Mary went to a nursing home operated by a nurse to ask about an abortion. The nurse informed the woman and her lover that Dr.
E. T. Martin
or another doctor would be able to perform an abortion.
On April 11, Mary's boyfriend went to Dr. Martin's office and consulted with him. On Dr. Martin's instructions, Mary's boyfriend brought her back the next morning, a Wednesday, for an examination. Mary was in Dr. Martin's office for about half an hour.
Dr. Martin then told Mary's boyfriend that the total fee, including a stay at the nursing home until Saturday night, would be $75. He then instructed the boyfriend to take Mary to the nursing home, which he did that afternoon.
On Friday the 14th, Dr. Martin performed a curettage on Mary to remove the fetus. The nurse claimed that she had no idea what Dr. Martin was planning to do. She testified, "I understood he was going to use a hot antiseptic wash. I didn't understand he was going to remove the fetus of a child. I would not have permitted Dr. Martin to remove the fetus of a child without calling in another physician to certify or find the necessity of it. Dr. Martin did not tell me what he was doing. If I knew that the girl had been pregnant and there was a fetus in the uterus, and there was to have been a curettement, I would have insisted on calling another doctor before I allowed a curettement to be done in my place."
After the D&C, Mary became alarmingly ill. Dr. Martin said that he himself was not in proper physical condition to care for the patient, so he summoned a Dr. Templeton.
Dr. Templeton evidently cared for Mary at the nursing home until April 19, a Wednesday, when he advised staff to transfer Mary to Virginia Mason hospital. She died the following morning.
It was alleged that Dr. Martin and the nurse told Mary's boyfriend to say that Mary had been suffering from cramps, had fallen, and had begun to hemorrhage.
Dr. Martin, with some corroboration from the nurse, said that Mary already had a rapid pulse and fever when she first consulted with him. He also said that she was bleeding vaginally already. Dr. Martin said that Mary had told him she'd missed three periods, taken abortifacients, had fallen, and had a chronic bowel condition.
Dr. Martin testified that he'd recommended hospitalization, but that Mary wanted to avoid the possible publicity surrounding a hospitalization. It was then that he'd decided to send her to the nursing home instead.
He also testified that she'd been bleeding from the 12th until the 14th, when he'd performed a curretage. He said that this curretage was necessary to treat her fever and bleeding.
Dr. Martin was convicted of manslaughter in Mary's death, but the nurse was acquitted.
Mary's abortion was typical of illegal 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
178 Wash. 290, 34 P.2d 914
Supreme Court of Washington. State v Martin
No. 25153.July 23, 1934.
abortionists -- female
abortionists -- male
delay in transport
delay in treatment
district of columbia
former criminal abortionist
illegal - doctor
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illegal - nurse
illegal - paramedical
illegal - post roe
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national abortion federation
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