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“An illegal abortion killed my grandmother”–except there’s no proof she ever had an abortion

March 6, 2016


Leave it to the Washington Post: If you can’t find an illegal abortion to wring your hands over, just make one up.

Here’s the story related by Christine Dinsmore in the WaPo’s Sunday Opinion section about her grandmother, Maria Consolazio, working-class Italian immigrant mother of seven children between ages 10 and 11 months who died during the early 1920s at age 36:

Maria’s death haunted my mother, Anna. The tears would come whenever she recounted the day she walked into the tenement kitchen and found her mother on the floor. In barely a whisper, Maria instructed her then-9-year-old daughter to run and get her “aunt,” her mother’s closest friend, who substituted for the family Maria left behind in Italy. She recalled how later, as her mother was taken away to the hospital, a kind police officer sat her on his lap and said he would make sure her mother would be okay. Of course, he couldn’t.

Yes, this was sad and awful. It’s horrible for a young child to lose her mother. But where was the abortion?

Mmm, someone named Regina Michele was tried in 1921 for giving Maria Consolazio an illegal abortion. Michele, who testified that she had never met Maria in her life, was acquitted.

The assistant district attorney pressed the police officer for details. Did he ask my grandmother Maria Consolazio whether she knew she was going to die?

“I did,” Officer Arthur O’Neill answered. “She said she didn’t know.”

Reuben Wilson, the assistant D.A., further questioned: Had he asked her if she had any hope of recovery? O’Neill did — she didn’t know.

This testimony in State of New York v. Regina Michele was heard in the New York City 6th District Court of Brooklyn on Nov. 10, 1921. Michele, accused of providing an abortion, denied knowing or ever seeing my grandmother. The case was dismissed.

OK, maybe it wasn’t Michele:

Years later, I asked my mother if my grandmother had died of a bungled abortion. She confessed her mother took something to end her pregnancy, adding, “It turned out she wasn’t even pregnant.”

Uh-oh! But…

I bought that family myth until I read the courtroom transcript. Who is charged with performing an abortion on someone who was not pregnant?

Um, one more time: Regina Michele, who testified she had never met Maria Consolazio in her life, was acquitted.

But the fact that Dinsmore doesn’t have a shred of proof that her grandmother actually had an abortion is beside the point. The point is: 1) to bash that perennial WaPo target, the Catholic Church:

A devout Catholic family clung to the tenets of the church and was humiliated that Maria had an abortion. They couldn’t dare be outraged that church dogma forced their mother to reproduce over and over.

and 2) to do some indirect Supreme Court lobbying:

This week , another court — the country’s highest — heard the most significant abortion case in more than 20 years. I hope the justices will remember women such as Maria Consolazio as they deliberate. A pro-choice movement slogan states, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” For my grandmother and countless others who lived before Roe v. Wade , abortion often led to a sacrament — the last rites.

The irony is that the Supreme Court case involves a Texas law that requires doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital-admitting privileges–a law that if it had been in effect in 1921 could have saved Maria Consolazio’s life. If she’d actually had an abortion, that is.

Posted by Charlotte Allen











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