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Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital

I didn't hear about this book until a couple of months ago, and then I anxiously ordered it on Amazon. After reading a few reviews and quotes from the book, I was honestly nervous about what I was about to dive into. I read somewhere (though I'm drawing a blank at the moment) that this book was not initially released in the United States, and now I see why. Because the one thing you should know about this book is that is is graphic. Dr. Magda Denes did not hold back in her descriptions of what she saw. Another thing you should know is that this publication is dated. Much of the lingo (as well as techniques) are outdated (as you would expect with a book that is almost 40 years old). The book was published in 1976 after over a year of research (and by the time it was published, the hospital that the book is based on, closed). One thing you have to remember about that time was that they were still performing saline abortions then. And a good portion of the book is dedicated to that. Because of that, I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone.

An interesting aspect of this book is that Dr. Denes (a clinical psychologist who immigrated to NYC. She died in 1996) previously had an abortion. Of course, it took three visits to the hospital for her to work herself up to it. The first two times, she walked out, unsure of her decision. A time later, she returned to the same abortion hospital to observe, interview, and eventually publish this book. I like the fact that we're reading these interviews and stories from a psychologist's point of view. I think it puts a whole new element into what we're reading.

The book is broken down into different sections. The Hospital (non-medical workers, policies, etc.), Saline Floor: Staff (here she compiles information gathered on the individuals who worked on the saline floor), Saline Floor: Patients and Parents (interviews and stories gathered from the girls and women undergoing saline abortions, as well as their parents, D & C Floor: Staff (again, individuals who worked on the D & C floor), and finally D & C Floor: Patients, Parents, and Boyfriends (same concept as the saline floor version). While interviewing the individuals, Dr. Denes is clearly "shrinking them", so to speak. And you can pick up on her opinions in her writing. Some of the stories will leave you with a "What the hell....?" response, while others will leave you saddened and even frustrated. Many of the women who were interviewed for this book seemed pretty nonchalant about the whole ordeal. In other interviews, you can clearly pick up a sense of low self worth and women/girls using sex to get what they want...only to be left with the burden of aborting. It is a pretty intense, mind blowing read.

One thing that stood out to me, is that many of the doctors who were interviewed for this book seem to possess a seriously warped view of women in general. Even the doctors who are married. They speak of their extra marital affairs as if they are nothing (which may have been the norm back then), then treat some of their patients in a rough manner (at least "rough" according to me). It is mind boggling.

All in all, this is a good read. But between what you're reading about (in graphic detail), the interviews with doctors, patients, and parents, and your own opinion of it's a lot to wrap your mind around. Do not dive into this book expecting anything current. This book, as well as many of the techniques used, is outdated (as previously stated). The best part for me was the psychological aspect. I like the little notes that Dr. Denes made while interviewing these people. I like her take on them. I also appreciate the fact that Dr. Denes can identify abortion as a necessary service, while at the same time having empathy about it. She seems to appreciate that while it's needed, it's also a sad occurrence. As you regular readers are probably picking up on...I feel like I can identify with her views on the matter.

In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital
Magda Denes
Amazon link:


  1. Currently a follower of The Souvenir...and following you here now also. I am also Pro-Choice...not that I would have chosen it for myself, I am a proud mom to three, but it seriously galls me when others want to tell me what to do with my body. Thanks for posting!

    1. Thanks, Stacey!! Please feel free to go to the facebook page for this blog as well. You can find it at! Hope to see you there!