Marian Mills’s abortion was not an anomaly for the 1930s; abortions were at an all time high during the economic depression. Oklahoma specifically had a high abortion rate. In 1938, Mrs. Virgil Brown of the Maternal Health Center in Oklahoma City claimed that there were most likely 12, 936 abortions in Oklahoma City that year. She arrived at these figures in a rather unscientific way. She claimed that of the 654 women who used her clinic, 213 had 371 abortions. She calculated that there were 22,000 childbearing women in Oklahoma City. By using her ratio, she concluded that there must have been 12, 936 city abortions. Regardless of Mrs. Brown’s unsubstantiated mathematical approach to the problem, other sources indicated a high number of abortions preformed on Oklahoma City women.
In early America, following the principles of federalism, abortion laws and issues of women’s health resided in the states. Even though there was an increase in federal influence in the 1930s, states kept their power over women’s health. Typically, states still followed the practices of English common law set forth in the English colonies that rendered women’s right to an abortion as legal. The rule used in common law was called the “quickening rule,” where it was thought that a fetus could not be aborted after quickening, or the first movement of the fetus. This rule was made into American law starting in Connecticut in 1821, when the state made it a crime to abort after quickening. Other states followed changing the laws to criminalize before quickening. States continued to “tweak” the abortion law and in 1916, New York State made it criminal for attempting an abortion, even if the women involved was not pregnant. Oklahoma altered the law to state that the women involved in an abortion had to be pregnant. So, the issue of abortion, as stated in English common law, was rewritten over time in the states to mean different things but as the laws evolved, each state took a harsher stand and criminalized the act. The reason varied to why in the early 19th century abortion became a crime. One principal reason was the high mortality figures for women who had abortions; the safety of the medical procedure for abortion varied and many women died under un-sterile and unsafe procedures by many incompetent abortionists.