chapter  20
8 Pages

Abortions

Young women were especially prone to public condemnation and humiliation, and some women even committed suicide in fear of provoking such reaction. Others attempted to hide their condition under loose-fitting garments, then left the village before childbirth and abandoned their newborns at the doorsteps of orphanages or nunneries. But more commonly, women attempted to get rid of unwanted pregnancies when they were still barely noticeable. If the pregnancy could not be terminated early, then miscarriages were provoked by tightly binding a woman’s belly, then pulling robes around it and placing heavy weights on top of it. Whenever available, chemicals were used as well to “improve” chances of a miscarriage, and especially common were gunpowder, various nitrates, kerosene, cinnabar powder (red mercury sulfide), and arsenic. Most villages had wise women who performed such services, although pregnancy was always terminated at a high risk to the mother. Some rather brutal methods were used as well, for example by piercing the womb with a heated spear.