Becky Bell

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Rebecca "Becky" Suzanne Bell (August 24, 1971 – September 16, 1988) was an American teenage girl who died of complications from an septic abortion. Following Bell's death, her parents became advocates for the repeal of parental-consent laws, which they blamed for her death.


Bell discovered she was pregnant in 1988. She went to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indiana seeking an abortion, but was told that state law required consent from her parents for the procedure. She had the option of going before a judge to argue for a waiver of parental consent, but reportedly feared that her parents would find out.[1]

On a Saturday night in September 1988 Bell left her house, telling her parents that she was going to a party.[2] She came home ill, disheveled, and in tears.[2] Her illness worsened over the next few days but she would not seek medical attention.[2] Her parents ultimately forced her to go to a hospital,[2] where she died on September 16, 1988. Her autopsy found that she had died of septic abortion complicated by pneumonia.[3] These conditions were likely caused by the use of unsterile instruments during the procedure.[1] After Bell's death, her parents found among Bell's possessions contact information for abortion clinics in nearby Kentucky, which did not have parental consent laws, but there was no record of her visiting a Kentucky clinic;[2] it is unclear where Bell obtained her abortion, or whether she induced the abortion herself.[4]

Parental consent laws[edit]

Following Bell's death, her parents, Bill and Karen Bell, have campaigned against parental consent laws, which they blame for their daughter's death.[5] The Bells worked with the Feminist Majority Foundation, which credited them with helping to turn public opinion against a parental-notification law in Oregon.[6] The Bells worked against proposed parental notification laws in Colorado in 1998.[3] In 2006 they testified before the Michigan House of Representatives in opposition to a pending parental consent law.[7]

In response, according to 60 Minutes, the anti-abortion movement attacked "the Bells' motives and the character of their dead daughter".[1] John C. Willke, a retired physician and anti-abortion advocate, noted that Bell's mother had stated that Becky was "dating a high-school drop-out" and "got into the drug scene" before her death.[1] Willke claimed that he and other doctors who had reviewed the autopsy report saw no sign of an induced abortion and believed Bell had experienced a natural miscarriage. The forensic pathologist who conducted Bell's autopsy disagreed, stating that he believed the infection was caused by unsterile instruments.[1]

Lifestories: Families in Crisis episode[edit]

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.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Becky's Story". 60 Minutes (CBS News). February 24, 1991. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Dettmer, Jamie (May 5, 1992). "Abortion's combat zone; Parents". The Times (London). (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b Abbot, Karen (October 29, 1998). "Foes of Notification Enlist Grim, Dirty Images". Rocky Mountain News (Denver). p. 11A. 
  4. ^ Brotman, Barbara (April 8, 1990). "Abortion Law Blamed In Death". Chicago Tribune. 
  5. ^ Lewin, Tamar (May 28, 1992). "Parental Consent to Abortion: How Enforcement Can Vary". New York Times. (subscription required)
  6. ^ Lewin, Tamar (October 27, 1991). "In Debate on Abortion, 2 Girls Make It Real". The New York Times. p. 1. 
  7. ^ Michelman, Kate (May–June 2006). "When parental involvement laws go wrong". The Humanist 66 (3). (subscription required)
  8. ^ "Lifestories: Families in Crisis Public Law 106: The Becky Bell Story." Retrieved January 22, 2007.

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