May20, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)

Septic Abortion

The old saw says "Let a sleeping dog lie." Right. Still, when there is much at stake it is better to get a newspaper to do it.

Mark Twain

A while back, TV news was full of the story of a 17 year old woman who went to Planned Parenthood for an abortion. She was given the drug RU487. She died. The pathologist reported that she died of a septic abortion; a bacterial infection usually caused by an attempted abortion, often done by the woman herself or another amateur. Her father was up in arms. His daughter hadn't told him that she was pregnant. After hearing him talk, I can understand why. He was raving about RU487 killing his daughter and was pushing for a parental notification law that would require that the parents should be notified before an abortion is done.

While I can understand his anger, his conclusions are not justified. RU487 can't cause a septic abortion.

Septic abortion was fairly common in the days when abortion was illegal. The usual way that women induced abortion in themselves, or with the help of others, was by inserting a knitting needle, or some other instrument, by way of the vagina, into the uterus. This can produce a small infection which can causes abortion. When nothing happened after a relatively short time, the woman might get anxious and decide to repeat the procedure, thereby spreading the infection. This causes a generalized infection(blood poisoning) which often resulted in the death of the woman. Another complication could be the introduction of the bacillus of gas gangrene which, in pre-antibiotic days, virtually guaranteed not only death, but a horribly painful one.

Before 1973, when the US Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v. Wade case that abortion was legal, there were about 1.2 million abortions per year and one death for every 100 abortions (about 5,000 deaths per year). Since abortion was illegal, no one knows how many abortions were performed, but the number of deaths from abortion is well documented. Now there is about one death for every 100,000 abortions performed. Most European countries, where abortion is legal, have a similar death rate.

I remember what it was like before Roe vs. Wade, when abortions were considered criminal acts. Wealthy people were often able get an abortion from their own physician or a physician who was competent, but most others had to either do it themselves, or hire an abortionist. So-called "therapeutic abortions" could be obtained in a hospital after review by a hospital board that determined that the pregnancy endangered the life of the woman. Abortionists range from competent to butchers. Women who had abortions often got abortions because they had more children than they could take care of. Some were forbidden by their religion to use birth control. Do-it-yourself abortions were common. Now a woman can get a safe abortion at a clinic or by means of the drug RU487.

There are powerful people who would turn back the clock to the days when abortion was illegal and often dangerous. Most of those people are staunch supporters of our president George W. Bush. Bush can be expected to reward those who support him if he is re-elected by appointing justices to the Supreme Court who would favor overturning Roe v. Wade.

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