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
Explore More by Time Frame
All Deaths by Name
  • Joy Joy, May 26, 1950 Age: 25
    • Lay abortionist Annas Whitlow Brown, Hutchinson, KS
  • Vivian Campbell
    • VivianCampbellTN.jpg
    • July 7, 1950 Age: 27
    • Unidentified perpetrator, Pittsburgh, PA

  • Velma Callahan, January 7, 1951 Age: 23
    • Lay abortionist Tess Truitt or John Rudick, Atlantic City, NJ

  • Elizabeth Hellman, February 6, 1952 Age: 35
    • Lay abortionist Jane McDaniel White, Oklahoma
  • Selma Perry, March 9, 1952 Age 19
    • Nurses' aide Elsie Schaff, Chicago, IL
  • Isabell Cuda, November 12, 1952 Age: 22
    • Midwife Mary Murawski, Rockford, IL

  • Bettye Porter, June 17, 1953 Age: 24
    • Lay abortionist Norman Wade Austin, Seattle, WA
  • Joyce Chorney, November 18, 1953 Age: 25
    • Dr. Alfred Joseph, Manhattan, NY

  • Ozella Skains
    • OzellaTN.png
    • March 8, 1954 Age: 24
    • Boyfriend, chiropractor John Goetschel, Oak Park, IL
  • Gertrude Pinsky, April 4, 1954 Age: 35
    • Dr. Hugo Francese, The Bronx, NY
  • Nathelyn Collins, August 13, 1954 Age 17
    • Lay abortionist Rev. Clarence Loveaux, Chicago, IL
  • Martha Alit, October 16, 1954 Age: 40
    • Dr. James Unosawa, Seattle, WA
  • Betty Ledel, October 19, 1954 Age: 27
    • Naturopath Sylvia Redman, Texas
  • Virginia Watson
    • VirginiaWatsonTN.jpg
    • November 29, 1954 Age: 32
    • Lay abortionist Roger Brenon, Los Angeles, CA


  • Lucy Sanchez, January 26, 1956 Age: 27
    • Lay abortionist Lois Brown, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Mary Davies, December 9, 1956 Age: 26
    • Dr. Robert Spencer, Ashland, PA

  • Alice Kimberly, February 1, 1957 Age: 38
    • Veterinarian Ira Ledbetter, Coldwater, KS
  • Arlene Thompson
    • ArleneThompsonTN.png
    • December 9, 1957 Age: 17
    • Lay abortionist Julie Villano, Long Beach, NY


  • Brenda Emerson
    • BrendaEmersonTN.jpg
    • March 21, 1959 Age: 16
    • Practical nurse Ruth Haskins, Burbank, CA

* The Colonial Era



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
actually performed
legally and thus the
woman's death was
accident, not homicide.