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19th Century Abortion Cases and Other Self-Injury

A 19th century medical book describes several abortion attempts. These self-induced abortions, however, are described in the context of unusual pelvic injuries in both sexes, and this context provides a fresh perspective. Horrible as the self-induced abortion attempts are, they are no more horrible than injuries and deaths people have suffered from putting foreign objects into their bodies for other reasons. In this context, self-induced abortion becomes less of a political issue, and more a psychological and psychiatric issue.

The authors, George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, start their chapter describing unusual injuries caused by accidents, fights, and other non-self-inflicted causes. But later they begin an investigation of things people inserted into their own bodies:

The authors then move on to cases involving female patients:

Patients were also described with a variety of objects they had inserted into their vaginas for reasons other than attempting abortion:

Abortion History
More Pre-Roe.

Mollie Smith
A 19th Century abortion.

Believe it or Not
I'm not making this up!

    The elasticity of the vagina allows the presence in this passage of the most voluminous foreign bodies. ... Goblets, hair-pins, needles, bottles, beer glasses, compasses, bobbins, pessaries, and many other articles have been found in the vagina. .... There is an account of a young girl addicted to onanism who died from the presence of a pewter cup in her vagina; it had been there fourteen months. Shame had led her to conceal her condition for all the period during which she suffered pain in the hypogastrium, and diarrhea. .... Pearse mentions a woman of thirty-six who had suffered menorrhagia for ten days, and was in a state of great prostration and suffering from strong colicky pains. On examination he found a silk-bobbin about an inch from the entrance, which the patient had introduced fourteen years before.

The authors close the chapter with a look at some abortion injuries:

Looked at in the context of self-injury in general, these attempts at self-induced abortion should lead us to look at the overall issue of what leads people to put things into their bodies. Such efforts could help to prevent the continuing problem of self-induced abortion attempts, which still claim the lives of women despite ready access to legal abortion.

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