Excerpt from The Worst of Times, Chapter “Coroner Fred,” by Patricia G. Miller, HarperCollins Books, 1993.
In the coroner’s office, “the dead women we saw had either bled to death or they had died from overwhelming infections. Some had tears along the vaginal tract where they had used coat hangers to get up into the uterus and break things up—like rupture the amniotic sac.
Mostly, of course, I only saw the women after they were dead, but once I saw someone before she died. That was in the early sixties. It was a woman who worked in the hospital lab with me. She was a very nice person. I don’t know anything about her personal situation or why she wanted an abortion, but she had one, and she bled and bled. I remember she called in sick and told us that she had a bad cold. Finally she did come to the hospital, but it was really too late. She died just a few hours after she came in.
Probably the death rate wouldn’t have been so high if people had come to the hospital earlier, but the way it was, with the shame and the secrecy, they tended to stay at home as long as they could—sometimes too long, as it turned out.” “Most of the dead women I saw were in their teens or twenties.”
“The deaths stopped overnight in 1973, and I never saw another abortion death in all the eighteen years after that until I retired. That ought to tell people something about keeping abortion legal.”