The first crime recorded by man is murder; perhaps, if women had made the entries, early abortion would have come down to us, too.


LIKE most other people, and especially young married people, I've heard, read, and talked a good deal about abortion. Under the present economic conditions, having children early in marriage seems unwise to most young couples and, sooner or later, haphazard methods of birth control failing, they consider or resort to abortion as a solution to their problem. It's been my observation that criminal abortion is not a solution to anything: on the contrary, it launches a number of new problems, considerably graver and more harmful in every way than the increased hardships which the expense and care of a baby entail.

Frankly, I will tell you that my wife had an abortion, to our most profound regret. The actual operation was not terrifying; we scraped together a sufficient amount of money to secure the services of a "high-class" abortionist, and thought we were safe from the dangers that attach to an operation performed by an unscrupulous, careless tenement quack. We had heard so much about death resulting from abortion that we sighed with relief at the sight of the expensive, hospital-equipped operating rooms of our high-priced, fashionable doctor.

Waiting in painful suspense, I saw women enter the inner offices, and return in what seemed to be no time at all, smiling, some looking a little peaked, but otherwise normal. It was all so efficient and well-organized that my fears subsided, and I greeted my wife when she emerged, looking somewhat white, serenely and with relieved solicitude.

Helen described the operation to me, or as much as she remembered, since she had been given an anesthetic (gas and oxygen). She admitted that she felt nothing, and felt fine except that she would have liked to rest longer. After ten minutes in a recuperating room, a nurse hold told her to dress; she could go now. We took a taxi home; Helen went straight to bed. That was on a Saturday morning. Monday morning she returned to her job, secretary to a broker. All that week she took a taxi home each night, counting the cost well worth the avoidance of the subway and the long walk from the station. Staunchly she insisted that she felt perfectly fine.

About two months later, she complained of a dull, persistent pain in her lower right side. It wasn't very bad, but she was very conscious of it, and as soon as she became tired, it felt much worse.

It was most painful during her period, and afterward she seemed exhausted, and avoided my embrace. Without telling her, I summoned our family doctor, who had not been "in" on the abortion. We had hesitated to ask his advice, since we felt so confident of Helen's safety, and besides, he was rather old-fashioned.

Dr. Bill examined Helen briefly, and turned to me.

"Well," he said, "Let's have it. What's the story?"

We told him about the abortion, insisting that it had been done very expertly, she had had no aftereffects, that her present trouble could have nothing to do with it.

"I'm tempted to say 'Oh, yeah'," said the doctor grimly, "but that would be undignified. You were both extremely foolish, and this is the result. Helen has what we call a "low-grade inflammation'-salpingitis-of the right ovary and tube. I don't know exactly how far the infection has gone; I'll want a blood test. But this is definite: she must give up her job, practically take to bed for a month. No work at all; no marital relations; hot syringes daily, and ice packs on and off every hour. Otherwise, I can't tell what may happen. This inflammation usually becomes chronic; I won't say that it will cause sterility, since so far it appears to be confined to the right side only. But it interferes with a great many things; and certainly you don't want this pain all your life, do you?" he asked Helen, with a softening of his grave expression.

"Oh, I know so many couples like you two," he groaned slightly, "you think you're modern; you know everything. Abortion is a familiar term, on everyone's tongue; and you blithely sail into trouble without bothering to think or do so some investigating."

He delivered other withering remarks, and left. We were stunned. The loss of Helen's salary would mean a great deal to our budget. We would have to sublet our apartment and find something cheaper. But that was the least. Helen was so active, vivacious, so unused to invalidism. Would she blame me, hate me for this? I should have taken care of her, made it my business to find out exactly what abortion entails and what it can bring about. I know now, but it's too late. Helen's inflammation didn't get better. She got out of bed and began to keep house energetically a month after the doctor's visit. She felt all right for a week, and then-sharp, constant pain, and the dread verdict from Dr. Bill: she'd better go to the hospital. Helen underwent an operation to remove the right tube and ovary. Her chances for having a child are exactly half what they were before. Her nerves are shattered; her disposition is ruined. We struggle along on my salary, and I feel that I have failed her and our marriage. And yet-the abortion as such was nothing. That's the catch.

What is abortion ? As defined by Frederick J. Taussig, M.D., noted professor of clinical gynecology, it is "the detachment or expulsion, or a combination of both, of the human embryo, at any time during the period in which the embryo is not yet capable of sustaining life if expelled from the body of the mother." Briefly, when a woman is delivered of her child before her time, either spontaneously or through operation, an abortion has taken place.

The abortion death rate, about which so much has been written and said, ranges from 2 to 4 per cent, if we take only figures from hospital sources, depending upon the country and type of patient sent to the hospitals which have reported the deaths. This excludes all deaths due to criminal abortion, outside of legitimate hospitals, for reasons other than disease, saving the mother, or con stitutional incapacity to bear the child any further.