Gerri Santoro’s Abortion

(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.

68 thoughts on “Gerri Santoro’s Abortion”

  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.

    1. Roe V Wade was not determined until Jan. 22, 1973. It was because of Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, etc., dying that a woman’s right to self determination was decided and that the ability to have a safe, legal abortion became law.

    1. 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.

      1. 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?

    2. 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?

    3. 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.

    4. Not even the same discussion AT ALL!! You frame this as if it is a choice that is taken lightly!! Shame on you for abusing women’s struggles for your own political goals

    5. @vanderleun & Sydney: Those were perfect responses, from both of you! Unfortunately, you know they won’t publish those late-term abortion pics, nor the Tanya Reaves or Jennifer Morbelli death photos.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.)

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. Interesting that this fool THINKS she didn’t CHOOSE to abort until 24 weeks out. We have no idea when she decided or what the obstacles were that caused her to wait so long. I’m betting secondlook does not know the circumstances of Ms.Santoro’s life or that she suffered from spousal abuse. If he does know those things and condemns her anyway, well, he’s just too far gone into sanctimony to reach. And how DARE he use her first name, as if he had been friends with Ms. Santoro. He can’t even be respectful in that simple way. (Yes, I know the comment is over 10 years old, but it’s still here and it’s still awful.)

      1. Think also that many accidentally (or willfully) overlook that the further you get into a pregnancy, the more likely it is that ‘choosing’ to abort ended up being the lesser evil of two awful options. Nobody farts around for six, seven months and then just chooses to abort because they won some cruise tickets. By that point, it’s safe to assume someone had to make a heartbreaking choice, and the last thing they need is some third party stepping in to make things even harder.

  9. @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!

  10. […] (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) […]

      1. Wow, Mary, good point! Let’s go farther back in the chain of events leading up to this, you know, before she got herself knocked up. (that was sarcastic) Even today, women often can’t get decent protection from their violent SOs/ExSOs. I wasn’t even born yet it 1964, and while I know they had options, women didn’t have as many as they do today when sometimes they still aren’t enough when it comes to strength, support, opportunity, etc. when they find themselves in one bad situation that compounds exponentially into worse and worse situations. Sad.

  11. @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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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?

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  17. They don’t donate term a abortions on anything other than non viable fetuses that threaten the life of the mother you know…save the life you can??? . If you took your head out if your butt you might see you are being lied to.

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