A new book is remembering the legacy of an abortionist whose services were “a kind of public utility, not unlike the water or fire department.” Except for that, instead of saving lives, she was ending them.
On Monday, The Hollywood Reporter (THR) published an excerpt from the upcoming book “The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery & Ruin in the City of Gold” by Stephen G. Bloom. In its headline, THR deemed Burns “Hollywood’s secret abortionist.” That’s because, in all, she aborted 50,000 unborn babies – sometimes as many as 30 per day – in the first half of the 20th century.
A news writer and author, Bloom serves as a professor of journalism at the University of Iowa. His latest book will be available in February of 2018.
The book’s description credits Bloom for a “compulsively readable portrait of an unforgettable woman during a moment when America’s pendulum swung from compassion to criminality by punishing those who permitted women to control their own destinies.” He has also won the media’s applause, from Publishers Weekly (“great insight”) to Chicago Tribune (“vastly entertaining”). Expect more in 2018.
But Bloom’s excerpt began with San Francisco District Attorney Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, pictured as a man motivated by power, who targeted Burns, one of the “state’s wealthiest women,” with the law in 1945.
That’s because her wealth came from illegal abortions. She was “California’s go-to fixer for ‘women in trouble,’” according to Bloom.
“For two decades, she had owned and operated the largest and most successful abortion clinic in California,” wrote Bloom. “Spick-and-span sterile and hygienic, Inez’s clinic looked more like an elegant ladies’ tearoom than a facility for terminating pregnancies.”
Abortion was illegal (Roe v. Wade didn’t legalize it until 1973), but Burns found a way around that: by bribing police and politicians. She served poor and wealthy women both “around the corner” and “across the nation,” Bloom wrote. Her clients included women from Hollywood.
“Studios sent under-contract starlets to her San Francisco facilities, whisked away from the prying eyes of the scandal sheets, gossip rags and the tattler press,” Bloom continued.
Burns had “no former medical training” but “performed what many considered a public service during a time when even the wealthiest wives or Hollywood starlets had few options if they found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy.”
One big name she performed an abortion on was Hollywood actress Sonja Henie.
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“Henie swept into Inez’s house, wearing a white mink, teetering heels and a hat with a triad of pheasant feathers,” Bloom wrote. “Dangling from her ears was a pair of giant diamond drops. Inez profusely greeted the star and whisked her upstairs.”
Her training began when she had an affair, at 17-years-old, with Dr. Eugene West, a 54-year-old abortionist. He trained her as his assistant, and often let her take his place.
Interestingly, while there, Inez became pregnant herself, by another man – but she kept her baby even though it meant losing her job. Before leaving, she “stole a canvas satchel of medical instruments and two vials of quinine pills and chloroform,” Bloom said, which she later used to perform an abortion on a friend. That jumpstarted her reputation as an abortionist.
Society viewed Burns as necessary, Bloom said, plus she boasted wealth and powerful connections.
“Women and not just a few men understood how essential her services were, and Inez was viewed by most as a kind of public utility, not unlike the water or fire department,” he stressed.
Burns jumped from man to man (until she met assemblyman Joe Burns), hosted and attended lavish parties and owned pricey real estate. She was also obsessed with her body – removing her ribs and even toes to be more stylish.
While a grand jury wouldn’t indict Burns, she eventually ended up serving 29 months in prison. She ran into trouble again, with the IRS and then for performing more abortions.
When she died at the age of 89 in 1976, she was deprived of her “last wish,” Bloom said, “that the abortion instruments she stole from Dr. West be buried with her.”