Bell became pregnant at age 17, but under a state law in Indiana, minors required parental consent to obtain an abortion. Said to be unwilling to tell her parents about her pregnancy for fear of disappointing them, or go to court to receive a judicial bypass, Bell purportedly sought an illegal abortion. Within a week of the procedure, she became seriously ill and died from a massive infection.
Her parents, Bill and Karen Bell, have since become outspoken opponents of parental consent laws, having lobbied in 23 states by 1991 and appearing on news programs such as 60 Minutes. Additionally, Bell's mother submitted an essay to NARAL for use in the 1998 book Choices: Women Speak Out About Abortion. The following is an excerpt from her piece:
Bill and I decided to speak out; we thought we could prevent other girls from dying. We appeared on 60 Minutes. The anti-choice crowd came after us. They followed us. There would be crowds of people with their fetuses in a bottle, and some would say that Becky didn't die the way we said she did. They loosened the lug nuts on our car. In Arkansas, they shot a hole in the building where we were speaking. They cared more about a fetus than about my daughter. I thought, "I'm not afraid of anybody, because my daughter is dead and you can't hurt me anymore."
People ask me what I would have done if Becky had told me the truth. I would have been mad, and I would have said, "Becky, you just ruined your life. What are the neighbors going to think?" That would have been my first reaction because that's who I am. But then I would have asked her, "Beck, do you want to get married? Have a baby? Have an abortion? What do you want? What can you live with, hon?" We would have worked it out. But I never got the chance.
Lifestories: Families in Crisis episode
On August 15, 1992, HBO aired an episode of Lifestories: Families in Crisis based on Bell's death, which was entitled "Public Law 106: The Becky Bell Story". Dina Spybey portrayed Becky Bell, Debra Monk portrayed Karen Bell and Craig Wasson portrayed Bill Bell.
- Abortion in the United States
- Susannah Lattin died of post-partum complications in 1868.
- Gerri Santoro died of an unsafe abortion in 1964.
- Unsafe abortion
- National Organization for Women. (n.d.) In Remembrance: Women Who Died from Illegal and Unsafe Abortions. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
- Lewin, Tamar. (October 27, 1991). "In Debate on Abortion, 2 Girls Make It Real." The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
- Bell, Karen. (1998). Becky Bell: A Mother's Story. In Choices: Women Speak Out About Abortion. Seattle, WA.: Seal Press. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
- "Lifestories: Families in Crisis Public Law 106: The Becky Bell Story." IMDb.com. Retrieved January 22, 2007.