December 3rd, 2007

Dr James

Excerpt from The Worst of Times: Illegal Abortion-Survivors, Practitioners, Coroners, Cops, and Children of Women Who Died Talk About Its Horrors, ed. Patricia G. Miller, 1993.

During my medical training, I saw women being treated for septic abortion, and as a resident I took care of lots of them. There was a special ward in the hospital. It had four to eight beds filled with women who had either pelvic inflammatory disease, usually from gonorrhea, or septlc abortion complications. The septic abortion patients were usually looked down upon as having done something illegal, probably because just about everyone grows up with the idea that bad people do illegal things and good people don’t….

I do recall two women who died from the complications of illegal abortions. One happened in 1 9S5. A young woman-she was only seventeen or eighteen-died of a ruptured uterus and an absolutely overwhelming infection…. She died of septic shock. Afterward there were spirited discussions among the doctors about whether we might have been able to save her if we had done some-thing differently-maybe different antibiotics, things like that. But no one talked about or even seemed to notice the really obvious solution: making legal abortions available.

The second woman I remember probably died in 1957 or 1958. She was a young woman too, but not a teenager. She had an abortion, and when she was brought to the hospital, she had gas gangrene. She was in shock by the time she arrived, and nothing we did made any difference. She died quickly-in less than twenty-four hours.

-Dr. James