[An extract from “29 Argyle Drive”]
Some of the women talked about their experiences on TV, with their faces hidden. Some gave interviews to the Christchurch press. More, following a public call for assistance in the investigation, told their stories to the police, under a guarantee of anonymity.
“Doing what they were doing…Gabriel didn’t think it was wrong at all. She believed they were doing a good thing. She hated men, actually. She loathed them. The only thing a man wants, whatever he says, well, we all know what it is, don’t we? – And when he’s had it, he discards the girl and finds another one. It wasn’t murder, she said. Those fetuses weren’t children yet. There was nothing human about them yet. More than them, she was worried about the girls.”
“This was the Sixties and the early Seventies and things were different then. There wasn’t a lot a girl could do. She could abort herself with knitting needles, or by falling down the stairs, or jumping off a table, or mixing a bottle of gin with laxatives and sitting in a hot bath. I did that once. I don’t recommend it. I just ended up totally drunk and sitting in a bath full of my own shit. Or she could find a butcher, someone a lot, lot worse than Cole Finley was, and maybe get sepsis and die of it. Sepsis is bacteria that come from dirty instruments. It makes pus in the blood and it rots the tissues. A lot of women died of it in those days, thousands.”
“At the time, I couldn’t have supported another one, not on my husband’s wages. I didn’t have any other choice but to abort it. And watching my other kids grow up, I often thought about him, he was in the back of my mind and in my heart. But I never regretted it. I had to do it. It was necessary.”
“It was the perfect place for young girls who had been abused by men to recover their spirits and their self-confidence and start afresh. The girls went there feeling shame and fear and resentment that their lives were being ruined because of a little thing inside them no bigger than a gob of spit. By the time they left, Gabriel had made us feel it was the most natural thing in the world to get rid of an unwanted baby as it was to have one that would be welcomed with love.”
“Gabby was lovely to me. Like a mum. And Maggie was great too. Always there, with something hot to drink or something delicious to eat. I’m a Catholic. I mean, I was. I mean – whatever. Gabby understood what I was going through in my head. The things she whispered in my ear while she stroked my hair really helped me come to terms with what I was doing. She was like Mother Teresa.”
Considering that Gabriel Henning and Cole Finley were ranked as the most prolific illegal abortionists in New Zealand’s history, the local newspapers self-censored only when comparisons to Mother Teresa came up in their interviews, which was surprisingly often.