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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: Mary Noble, age 38, died March 19, 1867 after an abortion perpetrated in New York by Dr. William F. J. Thiers.
Mrs. Mary E. Noble, age 38, died at her home at No. 54 Dominick Street in New York's 28th Precinct on March 19, 1867.
She had been separated from her husband, Ayers Noble of Tarrytown, for a year or two. He testified that the split had been due to her being "too intimate with [George Wait] Carson (the seducer). He was notified that she was sick with neuralgia -- which she was prone to -- and that he'd headed to the city to see to her, only to arrive too late. He said he learned of the real cause of her death -- an abortion -- from the coroner.
Their son, W. D. Noble, had lived with her. He testified that he'd not known about the pregnancy until his mother took ill. His mother had asked him not to tell any relatives she was sick. It's not clear then, who told his father and uncle of Mary's illness. W.D. testified that he first learned of the abortion when he read about it in the newspaper.
Leander See, who was married to Mary's sister Emma, had received a telegram on Thursday that Mary was ill. He went to her, and she "told him she could not live, and that she had had an abortion produced."
Police Captain John F. Dickson learned of the death on Sunday, and arrested the guilty parties. He went to 627 Third-avenue with the coroner and found abortion instruments in a bureau drawer there.
Dr. John McClelland testified that he'd been called to care for Mary in her final sickness. Her pulse had been 130-140. He testified that Mary told him "that a miscarriage had been brought on by an eclectic physician, and that he had used instruments."
The coroner's jury concluded that Mary had died from pyemia, "resulting from an abortion produced by the prisoner,
Wm. F.J. Thiers
, alias Dr. Dubois. They further hold Amelia Armstrong, alias Madame Dubois, as accessory before the fact." Carson was tracked to New Jersey and arrested as well.
Carson testified that he'd known Mary for about three years. He had met her when she was still living in Jersey City with son and daughter, since her husband was at that time away in the war. Mary had moved to New York after discovering she was pregnant, to keep the pregnancy a secret. She had, he said, spoken with him prior to the move "about getting rid of the effects of their criminality." Carson had arranged with the doctor, who he knew as Dubois, to make a $10 down payment and pay another $15 after the abortion.
Carson said that Mary reported that the first abortion attempt, done by attaching a battery to her body with leads, and using some sort of instrument internally, had no effect. A second attempt was made using some sort of internal injection of water. Carson saw Mary for the last time on February 21, when she was suffering chills. Carson fetched the doctor, who looked in on her for about five minutes.
On February 24, Mary expelled the fetus, which Carson put in a jar. He kept the fetus for about a week before he "boxed it up and threw it in the water-closet."
Mary had chest pain on the 29th. Carson again went looking for the doctor, but couldn't find him. He left a note indicating that Mrs. Noble needed him. "Dr. Dubois" attended to Mary several more times, but after a while refused any further care. It was at that point that Mary summoned Dr. McClelland, who was given all the facts and who in turn summoned Dr. Wood. Their efforts, of course, were to no avail; Mary died at 2:20 p.m.
When the police went to arrest Thiers, they found his home "sumptuously and comfortably fitted up." There were four women there who admitted that they were there for abortions.
"An examination of the premises resulted in the discovery of an immense collection of letters ... in relation to malpractices." Thiers also kept a receipt book indicating his patients, all of which police hoped would prove criminal intent in performing the abortion on Mary.
I have no information on overall maternal mortality, or abortion mortality, in the 19th century. I imagine it can't be too much different from maternal and abortion mortality at the very beginning of the 20th Century.
Note, please, that with issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.
For more on this era, see
Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see
The Bad Old Days of Abortion
The Noble Malpractice Case
The New York Times
, Apr. 1, 1867
"Another Malpractice Case",
The New York Times,
Mar. 26, 1867
"Another Death from Malpractice -- A Married Woman the Victim,"
New York World
, Mar. 26, 1867
"War Among the Health Officers,"
New York Herald,
Mar. 27, 1867
"The Noble Abortion Case -- Testimony of One of the Victims,"
New York Herald Tribune
, Mar. 29, 1867
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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