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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.
The steady fall in abortion deaths during the 20th century leveled off for some reason during the 1950s. Women continued to benefit from the medical advances in antibiotics and blood transfusions, so deaths did not return to levels before those developments.
A snapshot of what abortion mortality numbers were like during the late 1950s and early 1960s can be found in "
Abortion Deaths in California
," by Leon Parrish Fox, published in the
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
on July 1, 1967
From August 1957 through December, 1965, the five District Maternal Study Committees in California counted a total of 223 abortion deaths (criminal, miscarriages, and undetermined). With California accounting for 323,944 of 1,330,414 reported abortions in 1993 (24%), we can estimate that California likewise accounted for roughly 24% of criminal abortions before legalization.
If claims of 5,000 to 10,000 maternal deaths from criminal abortion alone were correct, California should have been counting 1,200 to 2,400 maternal deaths from criminal abortions alone per year, not including miscarriages.
If California accounted for about 24% criminal abortions, we'd have been seeing 125 deaths from all abortions annually in the United States during the period 1957 to 1965. When you consider that the official toll fell from 260 in 1957 to 90 (total legal, criminal, miscarriages, and undetermined) in 1972, 125 deaths per year in that time period seems pretty accurate.
In spite of the leveling off in numbers, I have been unable to find as many women's stories during the 1950s due to a fall in popularity of abortion deaths as news stories.
I am also unable to determine why lay abortionists are becoming disproportionately represented in abortion cases in the 1950s, since public health researchers found that women were finding physician-abortionists roughly 90% of the time. This might be due to shifting attitudes toward abortion which made law enforcement more hesitant to prosecute physicians for abortion deaths than they had been in previous decades.
Women's Stories from the 1950s
by Time Frame
, May 26, 1950 Age: 25
Lay abortionist Annas Whitlow Brown, Hutchinson, KS
July 7, 1950 Age: 27
Unidentified perpetrator, Pittsburgh, PA
, January 7, 1951 Age: 23
Lay abortionist Tess Truitt or John Rudick, Atlantic City, NJ
, February 6, 1952 Age: 35
Lay abortionist Jane McDaniel White, Oklahoma
, March 9, 1952 Age 19
Nurses' aide Elsie Schaff, Chicago, IL
November 12, 1952 Age: 22
Midwife Mary Murawski, Rockford, IL
, June 17, 1953 Age: 24
Lay abortionist Norman Wade Austin, Seattle, WA
November 18, 1953 Age: 25
Dr. Alfred Joseph, Manhattan, NY
March 8, 1954 Age: 24
Boyfriend, chiropractor John Goetschel, Oak Park, IL
, April 4, 1954 Age: 35
Dr. Hugo Francese, The Bronx, NY
, August 13, 1954 Age 17
Lay abortionist Rev. Clarence Loveaux, Chicago, IL
, October 16, 1954 Age: 40
Dr. James Unosawa, Seattle, WA
October 19, 1954 Age: 27
Naturopath Sylvia Redman, Texas
November 29, 1954 Age: 32
Lay abortionist Roger Brenon, Los Angeles, CA
April 21, 1955 Age: 26
Lay abortionist Harvey Karman, Los Angeles, CA
Doris Silver Ostreicher
August 24, 1955 Age: 22
Undetermined perpetrator, Philadelphia, PA
December 24, 1955 Age: 20
Scrub nurse Leobaldo Pejuan, New York
January 26, 1956 Age: 27
Lay abortionist Lois Brown, Santa Barbara, CA
, December 9, 1956 Age: 26
Dr. Robert Spencer, Ashland, PA
, February 1, 1957 Age: 38
Veterinarian Ira Ledbetter, Coldwater, KS
December 9, 1957 Age: 17
Lay abortionist Julie Villano, Long Beach, NY
, May 18, 1958 Age: 21
Dr. Harry Werbin, Arcadia, NE
September 18, 1958 Age: 31
Unknown perpetrator, Oklahoma
March 21, 1959 Age: 16
Practical nurse Ruth Haskins, Burbank, CA
The Colonial Era
The 19th Century
A question mark (?) after
a person's name
indicates that there can
be some question of
whether the person
actually perpetrated the
This would include cases
in which a person died
prior to trial, a case
never made it to trial, a
person won a new
trial on appeal, or a
person was acquitted
but I have been
unable to determine why.
In many cases, an
acquittal does not mean
that the person did not
perform the abortion.
In some cases the
jury might have decided
that the abortion was
legally and thus the
woman's death was
accident, not homicide.
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