On May 21 Michael Helquist, author of the new biography MARIE EQUI, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions, received the 2016 Joel Palmer Award, from the Oregon Historical Quarterly for the best article published in the previous year. Eliza Canty-Jones, editor of the quarterly, presented the award and noted that Helquist managed to complete and submit his contribution while also finalizing his biography. She also thanked Helquist for trusting the quarterly with his excellent examination of the early history of abortion prosecutions in Portland, Oregon. The article, “”Criminal Operations”: The First Fifty Years of Abortion Trials in Portland, Oregon,” appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the quarterly and is available in print through the Oregon Historical Society and at http://goo.gl/DBHLBT. The annual prize carries with it a $300 award which was awarded to Helquist – along with framed acknowledgement -- during the annual meeting of the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.
“Criminal Operations” presents original research that documents every abortion trial conducted in Portland and reported in the Oregonian from 1870-1920 (27 in all). Helquist’s study reveals two significant factors that hindered prosecutions and thwarted convictions: a lack of sufficient evidence peculiar to abortion cases and the ambiguities of the abortion law itself. Prosecutors obtained convictions in only 7 of the 27 cases. The research also reveals that the few successful prosecutions also created an opportunity for abortion providers to continue their work with minimal concern for legal difficulties.
Helquist remarked in an interview, “Oregon’s anti-abortion law thrust into the public realm an inherently private and personal matter involving a woman and her provider. It was seldom a good mix for anyone involved.” He noted that physicians were reluctant to cooperate with the law, concerned with their professional prerogatives; prosecutors wrestled with the “intent” of providers and of patients; and women feared the public humiliation that might result from a trial.
One of the few doctors to provide abortions in Portland was Marie Equi, whose skill and discretion prompted other doctors to refer their patients to her (and allow her to assume the risk). Oregon State University Press published Helquist’s biography of Equi, “Marie Equi, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions,” in September 2015. Her efforts for women’s rights and the struggle to obtain reproductive services are featured in the biography. The American Library Association named Marie Equi a 2016 Stonewall Honor Book for Non Fiction.
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