Illegal Abortion Myths: “Septic Abortion Wards”

Another illegal abortion myth, debunked by Christina Dunigan at Real Choice:

Dr. Doug Laube of Wisconsin is one of the many abortion practitioners who repeats hoary old tales of septic abortion wards. In an interview with Feministe’s Clarisse Thorn, he in fact made a rather outrageous claim that before legalization, not only were there entire wards in inner city hospitals devoted totally to treating illegal abortion complications, but also claiming that half of the women admitted for botched abortions died.

Ms. Thorn swallowed that claim without even pausing to chew on it.  I did a search to get a bit more of a realistic idea, and found Surgery, gynecology & obstetrics, Volume 26 By Franklin H. Martin Memorial Foundation, American College of Surgeons, 1918.

In other words, I found an account not merely from pre-Roe days, but from the days before there were even blood transfusions and antibiotics.  Dr. Julius E. Lackner reviewed admissions for abortions at a large charity hospital in Chicago. He wrote:

“I reported 500 cases occurring in the service of Drs. Banga and Fninkenthal at the Michael Reese Hospital in the years 1900 to 1914. Of these 500 cases 4 died.”

Let’s do the math. Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago admitted five hundred abortion cases of any kind in 15 years. “Abortion cases” included not just illegal abortions but also miscarriages. That’s about 34 admissions a year or one admission every 11 days for both miscarriages and induced abortions. That hardly an entire ward full of septic abortion cases, even if every single one of those women was indeed suffering from a criminal abortion and not a single one of them was just having a miscarriage.

What’s more, the mortality rate was less than 1 percent. And remember that this record predates blood transfusions and antibiotics. And, keep in mind, this case load is comprised of all women whose pregnancies ended before about six months, both naturally and due to criminal interference.

The number of maternal abortion deaths dropped dramatically long before abortion was legalized, as a result of improvements in medicine. Indeed, the legalization of abortion has failed to prevent women from being exploited, abused, traumatized, maimed, injured and killed before, during and after abortion.

Women and girls still die from abortion, but their deaths are no longer automatically investigated by police or even always counted in the official statistics because they are no longer the result of criminal activity.

Learn more:
Two Deaths from “Safe and Legal” Abortions: Would More Women Die If Not for Legalization?
5 Myths About Back-Alley Abortions
From “Back Alley” to Main Street: Illegal Abortionists Who Became Legal Abortionists
Kermit Gosnell, the Back Alley and the Front Door
Exception or Rule? Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” Not So Rare
Abortionists Are Not Held Accountable for Mistakes


Illegal Abortion Myths: “Septic Abortion Wards” — 4 Comments

  1. They were not specifically marked septic abortion wards. They were wards for pregnancy complications, just like we have today for women with eclampsia or placenta previa or placental abruption. But at that time, a tremendous proportion of the beds were in use by women who were injured from attempting to self induce abortion.

    A single statistic from one hospital does not represent the statistics of the entire country. There are countless reports by doctors, nurses, and patients about these wards from multiple states and multiple years pre-RvW. Ignoring their presence and ignoring their truth does not make you right.

    All you need to do is listen to the stories told by women our grandmother’s age to realize that it was a much bigger problem than you claim.

    I’m sorry you have such little compassion for women that you’d rather see them seek a creepy, dirty, back ally abortion and risk their lives then have access to safe abortion care and infection control…..

    • Ellen, before legalization, 90 percent of induced abortions were in fact performed by physicians. “Back alley” referred to the fact that women arrived and left by the back door in order to avoid being seen.

      Further, legalization did not actually lead to a decline in women’s deaths from abortion. In fact, women’s deaths from abortion plummeted well before Roe, due to availability of antibiotics and blood transfusions.

      I would really urge you to look more closely at the links at the end of the article, as well as the Real Choice site, which documents the deaths of women both before and after legalization.

      Every woman’s death from abortion is a tragedy. Unfortunately, legalization did not stop those deaths from happening. In fact, large-scale record linkage studies in the U.S., Finland and Denmark have shown that women who abort have higher death rates in the years following than women who do not abort.

      Abortion is bad medicine and we care about all women who are killed or injured by abortion — regardless of the legal status. “Safe abortion care” is simply not safe, as we’ve documented repeatedly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *