Medicine: Progress Report on Liberalized Abortion

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Of Colorado's 52 accredited hospitals, 23 will perform no abortions, in most cases because of religious objections. In the first year, 24 hospitals set up abortion committees, and abortions were performed in 21 of these (three received no applications). A survey by the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado Medical Center showed that of the 407 patients aborted, 278 (or 68%) were Colorado residents. The woman's mental health, not previously admissible as a ground for abortion, was the reason most frequently advanced under the new law— in 291 cases, or 72%. Next commonest were fetal indications, invoked for 47 patients, and 46 rape cases, of which 32 were statutory and 14 "forcible." Medical reasons involving the woman's physical health accounted for only 23 of the patients.

Typical of the married women who sought (and were granted) an abortion on psychiatric grounds was the 36-year-old wife of a factory foreman, who already had three children. To the hospital board, which included a psychiatrist, she explained: "My last pregnancy was a mistake. My husband and I knew that having another child would strain me to the limit—or beyond. I've already had to have some psychiatric help, partly because our eldest boy is a problem, and I just can't face any more burdens. Another child would shove me over the brink—I don't know what I'd do, but I might do away with myself."

Among unmarried women, a common psychiatric claim was that of girls who concluded that they had simply made a mistake. Said one: "I realized that I couldn't think of marrying him and spending the rest of my life with him, and I refuse to have a temporary marriage just to be able to give birth to a legitimate child. So I'm trapped. There's nowhere to turn. If I can't get an abortion legally and decently, I'll go out of my mind." The glib lay phrase "go out of my mind" by itself would not have im-pressed the psychiatrist, but in this case he was convinced that pregnancy and childbirth might be enough to precipitate severe mental illness.

City Anonymity. The university study group, Dr. E. Stewart Taylor reports, found that 52 of the aborted patients were under 16, and 135 were aged 16 to 21, while 157 were in the 22-35 bracket and 63 were over 35. There were 230 women who had not previously had a child, and 226 were unmarried; 123 had one to three children, and only 54 had four or more children. In addition to the 226 single women, 43 of those aborted were divorced, leaving only 138 currently married.

"The great majority of patients were referred to Denver physicians," Taylor notes. "The hospitals in small-and medium-sized towns are performing very few therapeutic abortions. This trend will probably continue for some time because of the anonymity that a large city provides." In no case did the new legal procedure take long enough to make a safe abortion impossible, and there were no maternal deaths.

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