SUMMARY: Clara, age 21, died at Chicago's Cook County Hospital on June 18, 1910 from complications of a self-induced abortion.
"Clara," identified as "Miss F." in the source document, was 21 years old when she used a catheter to perform a self-induced abortion in mid-May of 1910.
Five days after using the catheter on herself, Clara began suffering chills, fever, and abdominal pain. She passed the fetus the nest day but did not pass the placenta.
Her condition deteriorated, so on June 12, 1910 she went to Cook County Hospital. Her admission notes indicate, "Very weak and sick. Face drawn and anxious. Abdomen distended and tender. Muscles rigid." Her pulse was 116, her respirations 24, her temperature 99.6.
The following day, Clara's temperature began to fall below normal and her pulse became more rapid. She died on June 18 from streptococcal peritonitis.
Illinois death records show one woman of this age who died in Chicago on June 18, 1910: Annette Fanton.
The fact that Clara induced her own abortion makes her case unusual.
(then Medical Director of Planned Parenthood) and Nancy Howell Lee (a pro choice researcher) both investigated the practice of criminal abortion in the pre-legalization era. Calderone estimated that 90% of all illegal abortions in the early 1960s were being done by physicians. Calderone further estimated that 8% were self-induced and that 2% were induced by someone other than the woman or a doctor. Lee estimated that 89% of pre-legalization abortions were done by physicians, an additional 5% by nurses or others with some medical training, and 6% were done by non-medical persons or the woman herself.
Calderone's numbers came from "43 men and women from the various disciplines of obstetrics, psychiatry, public health, sociology, forensic medicine, and law and demography." Lee interviewed women who had undergone pre-legalization abortions. The discrepancy between Lee's and Calderone's breakdowns of non-physician abortions is probably due to sampling errors.
Lee, who spoke with women who survived abortions, would of course not encounter women whose abortions killed them. Therefore she would not be exposed to the proportionate number of women who chose the most dangerous alternative. Lee's sample also included only willing survey participants, who would be more forthright and complete in divulging information, such as who really performed the abortion, than women being interviewed by health or law enforcement officials.
Calderone, on the other hand, spoke with those likely to see the botched and fatal abortions, and therefore they would be exposed to a higher percentage of the most dangerous, self-induced abortions. Also, Calderone's informants would have been investigating botched abortions that could be subject to a criminal investigation. Therefore, women speaking to them would be likely to withhold the true identity of their abortionists to protect them. Also, should the woman die, her family and friends might identify the woman herself as the abortionist, rather than admit their own roles in arranging or performing abortions, in order to close the investigation.
Anecdotal data tends to support Lee's research. Stories of abortions by midwives, orderlies, chiropractors
, and assorted lay practitioners likeHarvey Karman
and the Jane Syndicate are far too common to represent only 2% of criminal abortions. We would probably not err too far if we relied primarily on Lee's numbers and adjusted them slightly to reflect the slight under-reporting of amateur abortions. Thus, a fair estimate of the breakdown of criminal abortions would probably look like this:
Possible ID: Cook County death records show a 21-year-old Annette Fanton who died on June 18, 1910.
Source: "A Study Of and Deductions From Fifty Fatal Cases of Puerperal Fever," Dr. Herbert Marion Stowe, Surgery Gynecology and Obstetrics
, 1912, Part 1
and Part 2