expel the fetus. If such measures aren’t successful, a Mexican woman may apply caustic chemicals or pay midwives or nurses, nicknamed “stork scarers,” to stick catheters through her cervix. Such methods are often ineffective and dangerous. The Mexican Social Security Institute reported almost 60,000 cases of abortion-related complications in 1988. Of those, at least 100 resulted in massive infections or hemorrhaging that led to death. Indeed, in Mexico, illegal abortion is considered the second most common cause Even so, the country’s federal Health Secretariat estimates that at least 500,000 such procedures are performed annually. In Ciudad Juarez, Dr. Carlos Cano Vargas, Assistant Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the city’s General Hospital, believes that many of the 350 miscarriages his department sees annually are really illegal abortions. “But it’s hard to prove,” he says, “because everyone conceals it. The pharmacy drugs leave no traces. Infection can happen after a natural miscarriage too, so that’s no proof either. You may see caustic chemical lesions or a catheter, but that’s very rare. A woman can be on her death bed and usually won’t admit anything. In six years I’ve seen only two cases of obvious abortions. For every verifiable one in Juarez, there are countless more covered up.” DELIA is a pseudonym for a Juarez woman whose abortion would have gone unnoticed last year had it not been botched. The 26-year-old is the mother of three preschoolers; her husband is a “twin plant” factory worker, earning about $40 per week. When their youngest child was six months old, Delia found herself pregnant again. She is taciturn but matter-of-fact while describing what happened next. “We couldn’t afford another child, so I took hormone shots from the drugstore and rue tea from the herb market. Nothing worked. Then a friend told me about a nurse abortionist. For $350,000 pesos \(at the time she was going to remove next day. But at night I got such a high fever that my husband insisted I go to a clinic. If only I’d known how to remove the catheter! Because when the doctor saw it in me he got really mad and called the police. They came and interrogated me, but of course I wouldn’t tell them where the nurse was. “The police made the clinic detain me for three days. Later at the station I was interrogated again for four hours. Finally, the detectives left the room and I just walked out. I hid at my mother’s house for a few days but the police never came back. “Oh yes” Delia said, “it’s very common for women here to get abortions. If you know the pharmacist you can get the injections, and there are lots of abortionists. Lots of my friends have had abortions. Most already have children.” Delia’s abortion was reported in the local Mexican press complete with her name and address on the police blotter page, along with stories about gang leaders, robbers and rapists. She was never indicted, however. “It is hard to prosecute these cases,” says State Police Chief Investigator Saul Oscar Osollo. Delia’s was one of only about five abortions reported to the Juarez police each year, he said. Some Mexican women with botched abortions are luckier than Delia they make it to El Paso, where health care providers like Reproductive Services do mop-up duty. Once, Pagels says, “We suctioned a woman’s uterus and found Abortion Abecedarium Note: the following lists were gleaned from Legal Medicine, Pathology and Toxicology, a now out-of-print text written by New York City medical examiners, and filled with tips on how to determine, say, if a dismembered corpse dredged from a large river is a murder victim, or merely a suicide by drowning that later crossed paths with a steamship propeller. Legal Medicine was considered the authority for coroners nationally during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, when abortion was illegal and therefore a forensic matter. Hence Chapter 22, instructing the medical examiner on how to inspect a dead woman’s uterus to decide, for example, whether she herself inserted the knitting needle that killed her, or if it was the work of an abortionist \(the two acts carried different criminal The book notes that in each year between 1937 and 1941, the authors performed autopsies on about 65 New York City women dead from known or presumed illegal abortions. Below are some of the things such women did, ate or inserted, as well as the particular ways they became ill and expired. These lists of desperation, invention and suffering which soon may have to be republished in modern coroners’ manuals follow little rhyme and certainly no reason. There thus seems no other way to order them than by the comforting canon of the alphabet. Means Aloe. Alum. Ammonia. Apiol. Bicycle riding. Bitter apple. Black hellebore. Borax. Camphor. Catheters. Colocynth. Cotton root bark. Croton oil. Darning needles. Ergot. Gamboge. Hot baths. Imitation oil of bitter almonds. Jumping up and down stairs. Laburnum. Lead. Lysol. Methyl salicylate. Nitrobenzol. Oil of cedar. Oil of nutmeg. Oil of pennyroyal. Oil of rue. Oil of savin. Oil of tansy. Oil of thyme. Oleander leaves and bark. Oxytocin. Phenol \(carbolic Slippery elm sticks. Soapy water. Spanish fly \(dried beetle, of the species Sponges. Turpentine. Umbrella ribs. Urethral sounds. White phosporous \(scraped from the tips Ends Acute suppurative peritonitis. Ataxia. Bacillus welchii \(resulting in gangrenous endometritis and myometritis in the Bronze-colored skin. Central nervous system depression. Chills. Coma. Convulsions. Death. Delirium. Dyspnea. Embolic lung abscesses. Excitement. Exuberant vegetations on the mitral, tricuspid and aortic valves. Fever. from the uterus. Hemolytic streptococcus. Irregular breathing. Irritation of the kidney. Irritation of the bladder. Jaundice. Lacerations. Oil embolism. Perforated intestine \(and other perforating wounds of the abdominal uterus. Pulmonary air embolism. Purulent yellowish-green or grayishbrown pseudomembrane, sometimes covering the inside of the uterus, or ragged, dirty red or red-black in color and gangrenous. Septic endometritis. Septic infection of the uterine wall or abdominal viscera. Severe anemia. Skin eruptions. Staphylococcus aureus. Streptococcic septicemia. Stupor. Suffocation. Suppurative endometritis. Suppurative phlebitis. Sweats. Tetanus. Uterine necrosis \(with gas bubble formation>. Vegetative endocarditis. Vomiting. Yellowish pus, pus-filled clots in the ovarian and uterine veins. D.N. 12 OCTOBER 27, 1989
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