Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Gerri Santoro’s Abortion

with 39 comments

(To see the photo, click on the image above. I decided not to publish it on the frontpage because the photo is not suitable for all readers).

In June 1964, a woman was found dead from an illegal abortion on a Norwich, Connecticut motel room floor. She was identified by her sister as Gerri Santoro, a mother of two facing her third pregnancy. Santoro and her two daughters had been victims of an abusive husband/father. Santoro was just 28 years old, and was 6.5 months pregnant with her secret lover’s baby. He took her to the motel, and fled when the self-induced abortion went wrong, abandoning dying Santoro behind. (He was arrested but served only a year for manslaughter).

In 1972, WCLA was given a copy of the photo from the NYC Medical Examiner. In May of 1973, a crime scene photo of Gerri Santoro was published in Ms. Magazine, after the U.S Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in January of that year. Even before Roe v. Wade, Ms. published the names of women admitting to having had abortions, an action of civil disobedience that highlighted the importance of the issue. Gerri’s re-discovered case and terrifying photo stirred a nation and inflamed a movement. Bloody, nude, alone, Gerri Santoro’s lifeless corpse became a powerful symbol of the newly legitimatized pro-choice movement.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 3, 2010 at 3:22 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with

39 Responses

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  1. That poor, poor woman. Despite the rights protected by Roe v. Wade, I think it’s really important that we don’t forget about incidents like this, both because there are still plenty of places in the world where women do not have easy access to safe, legal abortions and because there will always be people eager to change things so that things like this start happening all over again. Thank you for posting this.

    Maika

    May 3, 2010 at 3:55 am

  2. I look forward to your publication of a photo of late-term aborted fetus to balance this out.

    vanderleun

    May 3, 2010 at 4:02 am

    • Do you really not realize the horror that women went through to CHOOSE to bring a life into this world/
      When a picture like that changes American law and the entire feeling of the American public, I’m sure they will post it.
      Your closed minded thinking, decades after the world that caused that woman’s death, no longer exists.
      You are the minority. And it makes me feel joyous.

      Jen

      July 27, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      • And now here we are almost 3 years later. Google Tanya Reaves. She bled to death at a Planned Parenthood last year during her “safe” and legal abortion. PP refused to call an ambulance for FIVE HOURS. Oh and just last week a woman named Jennifer Morbelli died during her “safe” and legal abortion in Maryland. She was 33 weeks pregnant. Gerri Santoro was 26 weeks. You think it is alright to kill a viable baby because you got pregnant during an extramarital affair? What is wrong with you? These are BABIES. Fully formed, ready to be born babies. And their moms are dying too. But hey, as long as it’s “legal” what do you care if the women’s bodies pile up?

        Sydney

        February 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      • I cannot agree with you more!!!

        Cheryl

        March 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      • My first reply of agreeing with you was for Jen, not Sydney!

        Cheryl

        March 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    • You are not a good person.

      Lucy

      May 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      • what the hell… that was in response to vanderleun, not you Jen.

        Lucy

        May 6, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    • You mean the late term abortion that is done to save a woman’s life? I have yet to hear of one that didn’t involve a non viable fetus (like Santorums ) or when the life of the woman is in danger. Do you really support a woman dying instead of getting an abortion?

      Jennifer VaghyJones

      August 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    • What I find ironic is most anti-choicers often make exceptions for pregnancies that have gone wrong…either for the life of the mother or a non-viable pregnancy — The baby is dead, dying, or won’t survive very long after birth.

      Well, what do you think that looks like?

      That’s right…a late-term abortion.

      It really makes carrying around those pictures of late-term aborted fetuses rather pointless.

      Ibicella Lutae

      July 14, 2013 at 12:39 am

  3. What a photo! Shocking, but the story behind the image is far worse.

    p lawson

    May 3, 2010 at 7:52 am

    • Here you go. You’re welcome for the truth.

      Sydney

      February 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm

  4. This is a heart-rending photo. But in order to fully represent the magnitude of this issue (which is terrible), please don’t neglect the iconic “fetus” photo that is commonly used on anti-abortion protester’s signs, or possibly the photo of a doctor touching the hand of an unborn infant during pre-natal surgery.

    It might help balance out the fact that thousands upon thousands of babies have died without a choice in the matter. They are people too. To think otherwise is merely semantics.

    TBone

    May 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    • the fetus probably suffered far more from this abortion than it would have from a clinical procedure, or any type of next day contraception or emergency IUD. This is what people who oppose legal abortion are choosing as a method of death for fetuses: knitting needles, coat hangers, etc. I can’t understand the mindset of someone that would actually prefer a fetus to be ripped apart in such a manner rather than support access to safe legal abortions, sex education, and emergency contraception. There are far too many children trapped in the revolving foster home syndrome for the ‘right to life’ movement to still have any relevance. You have had your day to collect and adopt this nation’s unwanted children and you have made no effort to do so. You are all talk, no action, and I suspect have a gore fetish based on the fact that this method of abortion and the resulting graphic result is what you would ‘choose’ for women and their unborn children. It surprises me that no one makes the connection between the attraction to bloody dismembered fetuses and your religious iconography.

      nathania

      October 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    • No one gets to violate another persons body. Thousands of kids die from cancer every year, most because they never got a much needed bone marrow transplant. How much of your body have you given to others so that they could live? Why do you get to keep your bodily autonomy but I lose mine?

      Jennifer VaghyJones

      August 29, 2012 at 5:32 pm

  5. I’m with vanderleun. Before the procedure starts they are living beings. When it ends they are dead. Their species is human. These facts are not in dispute. Everything else is the sophistry of murder.

    mgarbowski

    May 3, 2010 at 12:57 pm

  6. Interesting how mgarbowski’s post can be about the woman or the fetus in different contexts.

    To the point, I don’t think this site is about political “balance”, nor should it be. That photo is iconic and had a significant impact on society. That’s what this site is about.

    The photos that anti-choice people put on their posters may be representative, but I would debate their iconic status.

    Kelsey

    May 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

  7. @ TBone and @Kelsey The fetus photo has already been covered here: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/how-life-begins/

    thequintessential

    May 3, 2010 at 6:15 pm

  8. i completely agree with kelsey. it is not the blog-writer’s job to present images from two sides of any issue. that is preposterous. (although, as he points out, he has already posted such a image.)

    kiff

    May 4, 2010 at 12:18 am

  9. It is silly to presume that your political agenda should be represented by anyone else. That and the fact that you feel a woman does not have a right to choices about her own body tells me a lot about you.

    sylvia

    May 5, 2010 at 9:39 am

  10. I agree with Kiff & Kelsey. I’ve not posted before and am not really interested in political agendas – just the fragility of the human condition. This photo depicts it eloquently. Thank you for the post.

    To comment on the subject, other’s choices are none of my business.

    genevieve

    May 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

  11. I think it is worth noting that Gerri Santoro didn’t decide she wanted an abortion until after she was 24 weeks pregnant. That’s still illegal in most countries and most states. In neighboring (and liberal) New York, for example, which legalized abortion democratically even before Roe v. Wade, what Gerri did is still a crime and is legally defined as “homicide” (see NY Penal Law § 125.00). This makes Gerri’s status as a martyr for choice rather murky. While many activists favor an end to all remaining restrictions on abortion, the public at large simply refuses to buy the acceptability of killing fetuses who are only not human because they are in a womb and not a hospital incubator.
    The photo is remarkable and compelling, but what is it a photograph of? Gruesome death(s) caused by desperate acts? Surely. People do dangerous and desperate and illegal things all the time. People sometimes burn down their own homes for insurance money–sometimes someone gets hurt. However, making arson safe and legal is a solution that not everyone can endorse. Gerri Santoro made a choice and it killed her and her unborn child. It didn’t have to happen that way, but it did. We have a picture to prove it.

    secondlook

    May 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

  12. @secondlook, hello. having stumbled upon this amazing website for the first time today, and on the 3rd hour of being engrossed by the photos and the simple informative blurbs that go with them, I’m still trying to resist scrolling down to read the other viewers comments, mostly cause so many of them, like yours, are so convoluted and fail to appreciate the situation the image arose from.

    I just think you’ve completely missed the point by over-analyzing a simple photo stemming from yes, a complicated and passionate issue, but not one that’s as black and white as the legality of the term of her pregnancy.

    It was already stated that she was 6 and a half months gone, but it was never stated that she was a martyr.

    And however hypocritical, i just cant understand your point of view. But it’s kind of ok, cause it spurred me to write mine. And now i guess I’m part of the debate I so hate in these comment threads!

    Laura

    May 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm

  13. [...] (source) In June 1964, a woman was found dead from an illegal abortion on a Norwich, Connecticut motel room floor. She was identified by her sister as Gerri Santoro, a mother of two facing her third pregnancy. Santoro and her two daughters had been victims of an abusive husband/father. Santoro was just 28 years old, and was 6.5 months pregnant with her secret lover’s baby. He took her to the motel, and fled when the self-induced abortion went wrong, abandoning dying Santoro behind. (He was arrested but served only a year for manslaughter). (source) [...]

    • What this woman really needed was protection from her violent ex not an abortion!!!

      Mary

      November 2, 2011 at 11:44 am

  14. @secondlook It’s presumptuous to assume Gerri knew ‘how far along’ she was. Your comment demonstrates the basic lack of humanity evident in so many who call themselves “pro-lifers” and reinforces my appreciation for the editors who chose to publish the truth.
    For the record, I am not for abortion. I do understand what people sometimes resort to when they have no resources and no control over their life. The reassurance of women’s personal liberty knowing that abortion is a legal option has resulted in more delivered babies – not fewer. In other words, when given a choice – most people make the right one.

    Steve

    October 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm

  15. [...] and bled out. It happened all the time. If you can stomach it, take a look at this picture of Gerri Santoro, a woman who died as a result of illegal abortion. If it makes you feel sick, it should. Had [...]

  16. This poor woman was one of the lucky ones, she bled out. Many others died extremely painful deaths from horrible infections. Many of the doctors who compassionately performed abortions have died or are retiring. They saw the damage illegal abortions caused firsthand. Todays doctors will soon see these nightmares happening again. It won’t be the rich wives & daughters dying, no, it will be the poor. Again.

    Expatmom

    May 16, 2012 at 3:00 am

  17. The plain fact that everyone including the liars that claim to be pro-life always leave out, is that the pictures they show of fetuses, if they are intact, are in fact medical photos from miscarriages.

    But it is more convenient for their anti-woman cause to constantly show pictures of later term babies, because the average size of a zygote in the early stages of abortion, which is when most of them are performed when it is legal, is the tip of your finger, and it is very difficult to get the public up in arms over it.

    Stop letting their lies dictate the dialogue!

    larale22

    September 1, 2012 at 11:41 pm

  18. I see a choice that lead to two deaths.

    ericabalko

    April 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  19. […] Just ask the family of Geraldine “Gerri” Santoro (née Twerdy). You’ve seen her death photo. […]

  20. I have to say I’m neither American nor a lawyer, so my knowledge of US laws is limited. That said, theoretically, could one argue that this arse’s words might not qualify for freedom of speech protection on grounds of inciting violence and hatred? I don’t expect it’d stand up in court, but my gut feeling is that calling for a return to policies known to have resulted in numerous gruesome deaths to people in a perceived political or social out-group (‘those girls/women’ who have abortions, aka ‘liberals’, or whatever he wants to call anyone who doesn’t think like him), calling for people to take real action in the sense of removing safe options, would that be considered a form of calling for a form of violence, albeit one in which his own hands to not directly kill another?

    Andre

    August 2, 2013 at 5:38 pm

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