One of the key plot issues in Dead of Autumn concerns the conflicting attitudes about abortion that exist in today’s society. What happens when the book’s protagonist, Alexa Williams, becomes entangled in a clash of viewpoints regarding abortion becomes an important thread of the novel.
Interwoven through the contemporary story of Dead of Autumn is the tale of the Depression-era Babes in the Woods . I’ve fictionalized the story, telling it through the eyes of one of the young “Babes,” Dewilla Noakes. Although not mentioned in my book, one of the little-known components of the Babes’ sad story also relates to abortion.
Mary Hayford Sedgwick Noakes died approximately two years before her daughters in July 1932 from "septicemia hemolytic". Historical records indicate that her death resulted from a botched, self-induced abortion. A family record states that her husband, Elmo, did not want any more children. So, Mary turned to abortion when she became pregnant with another child.
In an era before the Roe vs. Wade decision, one wonders: If Mary had been able to have a legal, medically administered abortion, would she have survived? If she had lived, would Elmo Noakes have become infatuated with his housekeeper-niece Winifred and left a good job to take that fateful drive across the country? Would Elmo have suffocated his daughters? Would he have killed Winifred and himself in a murder-suicide pact?
The tale of the Babes in the Woods is a tragic one. To consider that Mary Noakes’ inability to obtain a legal abortion had a domino effect - resulting in the death of her three young girls in a
Pennsylvania forest - is even more heartbreaking.