Rebecca "Becky" Suzanne Bell (August 24, 1971 – September 16, 1988) was an American teenage girl who died of complications of an illegal abortion in 1988. Bell became pregnant but, under Indiana state parental-consent laws, could not obtain a legal abortion without her parents' consent. Bell was afraid to inform her parents of her pregnancy and instead obtained an illegal "back-alley" abortion, subsequently dying of complications of the procedure. Following Bell's death, her parents became advocates for the repeal of parental-consent laws; her mother stated: "I feel I have an obligation to tell people what happened to my daughter so it won't happen to them."
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. She had the option of traveling to Kentucky, where parental consent was not legally required for abortion, but did not have the money or means of transportation to make the trip. Instead, Bell's parents believe that she obtained an illegal abortion; she left home saying that she was going to a party, and returned early the next morning, upset, feverish, and crying. Her illness worsened over the following week, although Bell initially refused to seek medical attention. She ultimately went to the hospital, where she died on September 16, 1988. Her death was attributed to a septic abortion and resulting pneumonia, likely as a result of unsterile instruments used in her abortion.
Parental consent laws
Following Bell's death, her parents, Bill and Karen Bell, have campaigned against parental consent laws, which they blame for their daughter's death. The Bells worked with the Feminist Majority Foundation, which credited them with helping to turn public opinion against a parental-notification law in Oregon. In response, according to 60 minutes, the anti-abortion movement attacked "the Bells' motives and the character of their dead daughter". John C. Willke, a controversial physician and anti-abortion advocate, argued that Bell was "dating a high-school drop-out" and "got into the drug scene" before her death. Willke claimed that Bell had a "normal miscarriage" rather than an induced abortion, a claim which was dismissed by the forensic pathologist who conducted Bell's autopsy.
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.
- National Abortion Federation: Patient Stories: Parental Involvement (Pro-choice)
- IMDb: Lifestories: Families in Crisis (Becky Bell episode)
- Becky Bell at Find a Grave