Saturday, April 19, 2014

Illegal and Legal in California

On April 17, 1940, Mrs. Josephine Williams and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Adele H. Sassen, were sentenced to prison for an illegal abortion resulting in the death of a Long Beach woman. The abortion had been performed on April 16, 1939, and the woman died three days later.

During the 1940s, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality from abortion. The death toll fell from 1,407 in 1940, to 744 in 1945, to 263 in 1950. Most researches attribute this plunge to the development of blood transfusion techniques and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.

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Mary Paredez, an immigrant, was 26 years old when she underwent an abortion at San Jose Hospital on April 19, 1977. During the procedure, Mary's uterus was perforated. She began to hemorrhage. Less than seven hours later, she was dead. The autopsy found 2500 cc of blood in Mary's abdomen.

As you can see from the graph below, abortion deaths were falling dramatically before legalization. This steep fall had been in place for decades. To argue that legalization lowered abortion mortality simply isn't supported by the data.

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1989: An Abortion Death and a Sensational Trial

Hughretta "Etta" Binkley was an unmarried woman about 34 years old. She worked as a stenographer and typist at Patee Bicycle Company in Peoria. She lived in a boardinghouse owned by George H. Lilly, where she shared a room with Lilly's daughter.

At lunchtime on April 1, 1898, she went to the residence/office of Dr. Belle Howard, about four blocks from the boarding house. After work the following day, at about 6:30 PM, she returned to Dr. Howard's house and was sent to a room on the second floor. Etta had a bag packed with a nightgown, robe, fountain syringe, and a bottle containing about two ounces of ergot.

According to Ida Kennedy, Dr. Howard's nurse, at about 10:00 the next morning, Etta went into the doctor's office where she remained about 20 to 30 minutes. She then went upstairs to her room, in Ida's care.

Etta was in pain, and bleeding heavily vaginally. At around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, Dr. Howard visited her in her room, then had her come back downstairs to his office where she again remained alone with her for between 20 and 30 minutes. Again, Ida took Etta to her room.

Soon after returning to her room, Etta suffered from rapid pulse and a copious discharge of blood and clear fluid. Etta remained at Dr. Howard's house, attended by the doctor and nurse, until the evening of Saturday, April 9. At that time, Dr. Howard drove Etta in her buggy back to the boarding house, where she left her alone on the porch. Mr. Lilly found her there as he was locking up for the night. He described her as being in "a very helpless and distressed condition."

Mr. Lilly brought her into the house, where she went to her room and retired to her usual bed with Lilly's daughter. (It was not uncommon at that time for adults to share a bed in a boarding house, purely as roommates.)

The following morning, at about 9:00, Etta went to the nearby Cottage Hospital, where she was immediately admitted. Staff physician Otho B. Will was immediately summoned to care for her.

Dr. Will found Etta to be trembling, breathing rapidly, suffering a pulse of 140 and a fever of just over 102 degrees. She was frequently vomiting. Dr. Will examined her and performed surgery to remove decaying and fetid retained portions of placenta.

Etta remained hospitalized under Dr. Will's care until April 19, when she died of septicemia. Her body was sent to her parents in Dublin, Indiana, for burial, but then exhumed on the 23rd for an autopsy. It was then confirmed that the septicemia had been caused by an abortion. Experts estimated that Etta had been four to five months pregnant.

Immediately after Etta's death, Dr. Howard fled the state and had to be captured and returned for face trial. Dr. Howard maintained her innocence and insisted that she was merely treating Etta for complications of an abortion performed either by Etta herself or by some other party. The prosecution said that up until her arrival at Dr. Howard's house, Etta had been in good health and had performed her duties at work. However, Miss Lilly reported that Etta had not seemed to be in her usual health just prior to the 2nd of April, and that she had observed bleeding that she took to be Etta's period. Ida Kennedy, the nurse, also testified that on her way to her room on the 2nd, Etta left drops of blood on the floor.

Evidently the prosecution witnesses were more convincing than the defense witnesses. Dr. Howard was convicted of manslaughter in Etta's death.

Adding to the scandal were allegations that Fred Patee, Etta's employer, had offered Belle's mother, Mrs. Demree, $2,500 to remain silent about her daughter's death.

Etta's abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was performed by a doctor.


I have no information on overall maternal mortality, or abortion mortality, in the 19th century. I imagine it can't be too much different from maternal and abortion mortality at the very beginning of the 20th Century.
Note, please, that with issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.
For more on this era, see Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Appalling, Fatal Care of Lou Ann Herron

Those insist that legalization of abortion is necessary to keep our daughters safe might want to speak to Lou Ann Herron's father, Mike Gibb, who silently wept in the courtroom as he listened to witnesses describe how his daughter died from a safe-n-legal abortion.

On April 17, 1998, 33-year-old Lou Ann Herron bled to death after a late abortion at the now defunct A-Z Women's Center.

The Pregnancy

Medical assistant Sylvia Aragon wept on the witness stand as she said that Lou Ann's pregnancy was "too far along" for an abortion. Aragon said that she thought abortionist John Biskind kept ordering more and more ultrasound scans to try to get one that would document the pregnancy as being early enough for the abortion to be legal.

A total of seven ultrasounds were done before an estimate of 23 weeks was obtained the day prior to the abortion. Although Arizona law allows the abortionist to have final judgment about whether or not the fetus is viable, and therefore past the legal limit for abortion, the standard point for viability is believed to be around 24 weeks. The ultrasound Aragon did on April 9 showed a 26-week fetus.

If the abortion was indeed being done after 24 weeks, Arizona law requires that two physicians be present. Biskind was the only physician attending Lou Ann's abortion. Arizona law also limits abortions after 24 weeks to those that an abortionist can try to justify on the grounds that it was necessary to preserve the health and safety of the mother -- a nonsensical concept, since after 24 weeks a conscientious physician faced with a gravely ill patient will perform an emergency c-section in a hospital operating room; he will not perform a risky late abortion in a freestanding clinic.

There were no health concerns in Lou Ann's case anyway, the prosecution noted. She sought the abortion because she already had two children and was separated from her husband.

The Abortion

Prosecutors said that Biskind had ordered a total of seven ultrasounds performed, with estimates ranging from 23 weeks 3 days to 26 weeks. However, only the ultrasound that showed the pregnancy as 23 weeks 3 days was forwarded to the medical examiner; the others were lost or destroyed by the facility. Biskind's defense held that no attempts were made to fudge ultrasounds, nor were records tampered with or destroyed.

The abortion was performed at 1:30 p.m. Biskind, his lawyer said, noted a small amount of blood on the sheets when he checked on Lou Ann after the abortion, but that he was not concerned because bleeding is normal after an abortion.

The Aftermath

Two medical assistants testified that Lou Ann was very frightened about her condition as she lay in recovery. She begged, they said, to know what was wrong with her. She cried out in pain as she lay in a puddle of blood for three hours. Biskind fixed her IV (complaining that there was no qualified nurse on staff to do this), reassured her, and left the building at around 3:45 p.m., according to testimony.

Clinic administrator Carole Stuart-Schadoff had a staffer page Biskind 25 minutes later when Lou Ann's condition worsened. Biskind did not return to the clinic, but told staff to call 911.

Prosecutors estimate that by the time paramedics were summoned, Lou Ann had lost 2 to 3 litres of blood.
When the rescue crew arrived, Phoenix fire captain Biran Tobin Tobin testified, Lou Ann was wearing an oxygen mask, but had not been intubated. There was also no IV in place. "I very quickly felt that there wasn't a lot of competent medical care going on at the time," he said.

Tobin testified that Lou Ann appeared to be dead. Nobody at the clinic seemed aware of how grave her condition was, he said, and nobody seemed to be helping her in any way. Staff told Tobin that Lou Ann's vitals were pulse 100, blood pressure 90/50. "It was very difficult for me to believe that they could get the vital signs of a woman who, even as we walked in the door, looked really dead," he said.

On cross-examination, Tobin indicated that during the 11 minutes the rescue crew was at the facility, he personally never touched the patient. He could not say if her skin was so cold because it was cold at the facility, or because she was dead.

Biskind surrendered his license to practice medicine in Arizona after Lou Ann's death in order to stop an ongoing medical board investigation of the circumstances and his handling of the case.

The Trial

A former Maricopa County medical examiner testified that the tear in LouAnne's uterus was caused by medical instruments, and not by a fetal body part as the defense suggested. However, even had the injury been caused by a fetal body part, this is an expected complication and would not have excused Biskind from his duty to notice and treat the injury.


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Biskind on trial
Emergency room physician John Gallagher testified that, based on his assessment of Lou Ann's condition, she could have been saved had she been brought into surgery promptly. This assessment is in keeping with a CDC study concluding that given the training and resources available to physicians, no woman need bleed to death from a legal abortion.
Gallagher trains paramedics for the Phoenix Fire Department. He said that the records he reviewed clearly indicated that Lou Ann's condition was life threatening as she lay bleeding after her abortion, and that Biskind should have recognized the severity of her injuries.

Gallagher testified that the records clearly indicated serious trouble at 1:25 p.m., 16 minutes after Lou Ann had been taken to the recovery room. He said that had he been treating her, he would have ordered more IV fluids and blood immediately, and summoned an ambulance to take her to a hospital where she could be treated in a properly equipped operating room.

Gallagher noted that during her last hours in the recovery room, Lou Ann became combative, anxious and frightened, and that she reported her legs were going numb. These, he noted, are all clear signs of severe blood loss. Instead of recognizing the danger she was in, Gallagher noted, Biskind instead tried to calm Lou Ann and reassure her that she would be "just fine."

Dr. Sidney Wecsler, an abortion expert testifying for the prosecution, said that the letter Biskind wrote to the medical board describing Lou Ann's death misrepresented both her condition and his treatment of her. The letter, dated June 1, 1998, said that Boskind checked on Lou Ann at 1:25 p.m., and that "pulse and blood pressure were satisfactory." The medical records, however, show that Lou Ann's blood pressue was low at that time, a symptom of severe blood loss. Biskind also said in the letter that Lou Ann was alert and talking when he left the clinic at 4:05, which Wecsler said would have been impossible for the moribund patient who was certainly dead by the time paramedics arrived twenty minutes later.

Wechsler said that Biskind surely knew as early as 3:15 p.m. that Lou Ann was not alert, because he ordered a drug to arouse her, which did not work. Biskind's letter makes no mention of administering this drug.

Biskind's defense has been claiming that the assistants at the clinic failed to keep Biskind informed of Lou Ann's deteriorating condition. But Biskind's letter to the medical board claims that he himself checked on her every 30 to 45 minutes.

Wechsler was cross-examined by Biskind's lawyer. The lawyer contends that the assistants could have misjudged how much blood Lou Ann was losing, and that Lou Ann's low blood pressure may have been due to medication and not hemorrhage. Wechsler didn't budge from his initial assessment, that Biskind had plenty of evidence and had no legitimate reason to claim ignorance of Lou Ann's life-threatening condition.

Wechsler said that Biskind should have done a pelvic exam and other tests to determine exactly what was wrong with Lou Ann as she lay, frantic and bleeding, in the recovery room. If nothing else, Wechsler said, the fact that Lou Ann was still in recovery three hours after her abortion, long after other patients were up and about and discharged from the facility, should have alerted Biskind to the fact that something was seriously wrong.

A doctor who specializes in obstetric ultrasounds testified that the quality of the scan used to justify Lou Ann's abortion was so poor that it appeared the machine was defective and improperly used. The judge ordered struck from the record the expert's comment that reading an ultrasound properly is "a matter of life and death" for an unborn baby.

Biskind's defense was largely based on the idea that no physician would have rationally have left the facility had he realized that Lou Ann was in danger of bleeding to death from the hole in her uterus. The defense also holds that Biskind did not order multiple ultrasounds, but that the fetus was truly 23 weeks.

The prosecution noted that the clinic charged $1,250 for an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks, and indicated that it was this fee, and not any medical concern for Lou Ann, that led Biskind to proceed with an abortion.

Biskind's attorney also indicated that Biskind informed Lou Ann of the risks of a late abortion before she signed the consent form.

Biskind's co-defendant, Carole Stuart-Schanoff, had a defense based on the idea that as administrator of the facility, she had no medical training, took no role in patients' medical care, and therefore was not responsible for what happened in the clinic she was running. Prosecutors point out that Stuart-Schadoff scheduled the abortion, and that she scheduled it despite knowing that there would be no registered nurse attending the recovery room that day. The prosection also noted that Stuart-Schadoff delayed calling 911, choosing to call Biskind first.

Lois Montagno, an RN from the now closed A-Z Women's Center, testified that she told Stuart-Schadoff a week in advance that she would not be able to work past noon on August 17, 1998, the day Stuart-Schadoff scheduled Lou Ann Herron for her fatal abortion. This supports the prosecution's contention that Stuart-Schadoff was responsible for leaving Lou Ann in the care of medical assistants, who would not be qualified to supervise the recovery room.


Montagno also testified that she left a note to remind the supervisor, and told her as she was leaving on the 17th, reminding Stuart-Schadoff to tell Biskind that there would be no RN in the recovery room. Montagno did not tell Biskind she was leaving; she testified that he was in the procedure room at the time and she did not want to interrupt him.

Upon retiring to deliberate at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the jury of seven women and one man immediately agreed that the defendants were guilty. It was simply a matter of deciding which charges they were guilty of: the manslaughter charge, or the lesser charge of negligent homicide. It took them 4 1/2 hours to conclude that Biskind was guilty of manslaughter, Stuart-Schadoff of negligent homicide.

Lou Ann's family, which occupied two rows of the courtroom during the trial, wept as the verdicts were read. They met with members of the jury afterward.

Jury foreman Russell Craig, 56, spoke for the jury in the aftermath of the abortion death trial. He reported that he and other jurors were haunted by vivid dreams. He was particularly disturbed by the autopsy photos.
According to Craig, Biskind was his own worst enemy. "At one point when the prosecutor had finished his closing arguments," Craig told a reporter, "he applauded. It certainly didn't make much of an impression."
Only after the trial was over did members of the jury learn of Biskind's history of misconduct, including the previous death of another abortion patient. Craig said that this information "makes me feel better about my decision."

After the verdict, County Attorney Romley called for tougher laws addressing the way the Board of Medical Examiners handles doctors with problems.

The Owner

A-Z owner Moshe Hachamovitch testified, news reports say, "reluctantly and under tight security." When questioned about his knowledge of procedures at the facility, and about Lou Ann's death, he responded, "I don't remember." He did, however, indicate that he called Biskind a few weeks after the death to discuss the case, but did not say what, if any, conclusions he reached about how the situation was handled.

Hachamovitch admitted that the clinic did not have a procedures manual, but said that Biskind was "excellent at doing second-trimester abortions." Hachamovitch indicated that he himself is an expert on late abortions, having performed "hundreds of thousands of them" during his 41 years of practice, going back to pre-Roe days in New York. However, Hachamovitch's license had been suspended in New York for nine months on the grounds of gross negligence, gross incompetence, and innacurate patient records. His license was again suspended in New York for practicing fraugulently and failing to maintain adequate records.

Hachamovitch himself performed the fatal abortions on Tanya Williamson, Luz Rodriguez, and Christina Goesswein. Jammie Garcia died after a safe and legal abortion at Hachamovitch's Texas facility.

Midwife's Fatal Work in 1917 Chicago

On April 16, 1917, 27-year-old Antonia Gennaro, an Italian immigrant, died at her Chicago home of septicemia caused by an abortion perpetrated that day by midwife Minnie Miller. Miller was held by the Coroner that day, and indicted on April 17, but the case never went to trial.

Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good. For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

1932: The Death of Ruth Hall

The Arrangements

Dr. Richard Thacker
Dr. Richard E. Thacker (pictured) maintained an office and operating rooms in the Terminal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the early part of April, 1932, 21-year-old Ruth Hall, who was unmarried, went with her friends, Helen Wright and Margy Brown, to Thacker's practice. Ruth was in good health at the time, but had discovered that she was pregnant. Helen reported that Ruth was on vacation from her job at Southwest Bell Telephone Company. Ruth's friends stayed in the waiting room while Thacker took Ruth back into his exam room for five or ten minutes. Thacker told Ruth to return at noon the following day, April 6, a Wednesday.

Ruth borrowed money to pay for the abortion. She, Margy, and Helen returned as instructed, bringing Ruth's roommate, Elma Benne, with them. The four young women awaited Thacker's arrival in his waiting room. After he arrived, Helen went into the procedure room with Ruth, while Elma and Margy waited.

Helen said she saw Ruth give Thacker money, but she didn't know how much. Ruth then got onto the table as instructed by Thacker.


The Abortion

Here is Helen's testimony regarding what happened next:

She was on her back with her knees up; defendant used a long slender instrument, and then packed her with gauze; I guess he packed her womb; I saw him insert the instrument into her private parts; he did not make any examination before he used this instrument, nor did he take her temperature; he did not test her heart or feel her pulse. If he asked anything about her condition I did not hear it; we were in a small narrow room; she asked him when to remove the gauze, and he said 24 hours. 
Helen testified that there were some other women in Thacker's office when she and Ruth collected their friends and went back to the boarding house where Ruth lived. Helen remained with her friend for four hours, leaving her in the care of her roommate.

The Aftermath

Helen returned to the boarding house on Thursday, and spent the night with Ruth and Elma. Ruth took ill in the night. Elma said that her friend "suffered quite a bit", and got up to use the bathroom, where Ruth passed something. Elma thought that Ruth seemed to feel a bit better after that. Both Helen and Elma observed blood on the bed at the time. Elma described it as "a spot the size of two hands".

Helen said goodbye to Ruth at 10:00 Friday morning. She never saw her friend alive again.

On Saturday, Ruth's brother came to bring his sister to their parents' house, as was their routine. Mrs. Hall reported that Ruth was sick when she arrived at about 4 or 5 p.m. It wasn't until roughly 11:00 that Ruth finally told her mother why she was ill. Mrs. Hall called Dr. Vaughn, their family doctor. He didn't provide any care for Ruth, but did consult with her mother over the phone.

Mrs. Hall then called Thacker. Here is her testimony regarding that phone call:

When I phoned defendant, I stated: 'This is Mrs. George Hall, at Bethany. Do you remember a girl coming to your office by the name of Ruth Hall?' He said he did not remember her, that she was not there. 'Well' I said, 'She is sick and we want you to come out and see her.' He said, 'What is the trouble,' and I said, 'You know what is the matter with her, come out right away.' He said, 'I haven't got any way to get out there.' I told him I could tell him a way. He said he would have to get a taxi. I did not care how he got there, all I wanted was for him to come. He acted like he was not going to come, and I said, 'You will wish you had. You had better come on out here if you know what is good for you.'

Defendant came out; my daughter was in a back bedroom, and I went with him to her room; I don't think he asked any questions about her physical condition; he asked what was the matter; she smiled at him and did not say anything; he had taken her temperature and she did not have any fever at all.

He opened up his case to get his instruments and started in like he was going to work on her without sterilizing his instruments or washing his hands; I asked him if he was not going to sterilize his instruments or wash his hands; he said, 'I guess I had better;' he washed his hands, but did not sterilize his instruments; he took out an instrument of some kind, and used that on her; he used that to dilate her vagina, then used a swab with cotton and stuck that in a bottle that contained iodine and swabbed her out with it; after he treated her he sat at the foot of the bed and talked with us for some time. He said, 'This is something I certainly do not approve of; I told the girl this when she came to the office and wanted help, but I could not turn her down. It seems like the more I try to help people lately the most of them get into worse trouble;' he said if his wife knew this 'she would kill me. I feel like sometimes going and jumping in the river, and if I had I would be better off.' He further said, 'Before I do anything like this again, the husbands will have to come with the wives, or the mothers with the daughters.'

I asked him about getting another doctor, and he said he did not think it necessary. She died Friday evening. I called Dr. Vaughn, and he would not come. I called Dr. Ferris and defendant; Dr. Ferris got there first, then the defendant came. She was dead when defendant got there.

The Fallout

After Ruth's death, Thacker said, Ruth's sister tied to shake him down for funeral expenses. Thacker refused, on the grounds that he felt he had done everything he could for Ruth. Her sister threatened to turn him in to the police. Thacker fled to his brother-in-law's ranch near Amarillo, Texas, where he changed his name to Miller. He then relocated to Springdale, Arkansas, where he was finally appreheded. He was arrested in the afternoon, and claimed at the time of his arrest that he had been planning to return to Oklahoma City that evening.

Over Thacker's understandable, albeit unsustainable, objections, the court permitted a number of witnesses to testify that after Ruth's visit to his practice, Thacker had performed fatal abortions on Robbie Lou Thompson, Lennis May Roach, and Nancy Joe Seay Lee. The witnesses went into detail about the events, up to and including the death of each of them.

Thacker testified that Ruth had indeed come to his office, but he denied performing an abortion on her. He said that she was seeking aftercare for an abortion she had obtained elsewhere from another doctor. He did admit that he had been summoned to the Hall home by Ruth's mother, but he denied any of the statements he made to Mrs. Hall regarding having an abortion practice. He also admitted to having treated Robbie Lou Thompson, Lennis May Roach, and Nancy Joe Lee, but denied that he performed any abortions.

The Appeal

Thacker was convicted of murder, but appealed the conviction, claiming seventeen errors in the prosecution of his case, mostly focusing on the presentation of evidence that he had performed abortions on other women. Thacker's attorneys held that this evidence was prejudicial. But the state countered that the evidence of numerous other abortions demonstrated that Thacker was a practicing abortionist and that the crime against Ruth was performed as a part of that business.

The appeal also challenged other aspects of the state's case, and boiled down to, "You didn't prove she was pregnant. And even if she was, you didn't prove that I used any instruments on her. And even if I did, you didn't prove that I used them to cause an abortion. And even if I did, you didn't prove that the abortion wasn't necessary to save her life. Not to mention you didn't prove that the abortion caused her death." The state noted that circumstantial evidence was sufficient. Thacker's appeal clearly illustrates why so many doctors who clearly were performing abortions were nevertheless not convicted, since one weak link in the chain of proof could destroy the state's entire case.

New York Times; "Abortion Ring", Time, Monday, May 9, 1932; Thacker v State. 1933 OK CR 119. 26 P.2d 770. 55 Okl.Cr. 161. Decided: 10/27/1933. Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals

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Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1930s.

1997 Safe and Lethal

Sixteen-year-old Maureen Espinoza underwent a safe, legal abortion at a doctor's office in San Antonio on March 28, 1997. During the abortion, the doctor punctured Maureen's uterus, but didn't note this in her medical records or say anything to her about it, indicating that he simply didn't notice. Maureen was sent home. On April 3, she went to the emergency room at Northeast Baptist Hospital. Over the ensuing days, doctors there performed two surgeries to try to save her life, but to no avail. She died on April 15, 1997. Abortion rights organizations would assert that, while tragic, Maureen's death was just a case of "all surgery has risks." But since roughly 90% of abortions before legalization were done by doctors, the same "all surgery has risks" logic still would have applied.

Monday, April 14, 2014

1930s: A Single Chicago Death; Part of a Rash of Deaths in Oklahoma City

Mamie Ethel Crowell, age 20, died on April 14, 1930, in the office of Dr. Hans Paulsen, from an abortion performed on her that day. Two days later, Paulsen was booked for manslaughter by abortion. The father of the baby, Uriah Denniston, was booked as accessory. Paulson was held by the Coroner for murder by abortion. Denniston wasn't mentioned in the verdict. On September 1, the indictment was quashed. The source notes "Circumstances suggesting judicial corruption."

Dr. Richard Thacker
Two years later, on April 14, 1932, 21-year-old Mrs. Isabelle Ferguson died of suspected abortion complications. Two physicians in the University of Oklahoma area, J. W. Eisiminger and Richard E. Thacker, were suspected in the case. Thacker and Eisiminger were not ordinary doctors who just did abortions on a few patients. They were abortionists, and quack abortionists at that. Singly or as a pair they were implicated in a string of deaths:

Thacker was sentenced to life in prison for Ruth Hall's death. His attorney announced an immediate motion for an appeal, on the grounds that Thacker's other abortions should not have been admitted as testimony.

The Abortion Deaths of two Stellas, Half a Century Apart

April 13 holds a sad coincidence: the abortion deaths of two women named Stella.

On April 13, 1909, Stella Kelly Lowery, age 28, died of septicemia at a hospital in Chicago, from an abortion that had been perpetrated around March 5. Stella, a waitress, was divorced and was identified by her maiden name in the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database. A midwife named Louise Actenberg was held by the coroner's jury. Achtenberg was also implicated in the 1907 abortion death of Dora Swan and the 1909 abortion deaths of Stella and of Florence Wright. In 1918, at the age of 69, she was arrested for performing an abortion on Miss Ruth G. Pickling,[1] but acquitted, going on to be arrested for the 1920 abortion death of Violet McCormick and the 1924 death of Madelyn Anderson. I can find no record that she was ever incarcerated, which is hardly surprising, given how hospitable Chicago has typically been to abortionists both before and after legalization.

Stella Saenz, age 42, had arranged for a safe, legal abortion in the spring of 1968. On April 11, she was admitted to Los Angeles County General Hospital with sepsis. Doctors administered penicillin. Stella went into anaphylactic shock; neither she nor the doctors had realized that Stella was allergic to penicillin. Doctors tried to treat both the infection and Stella's reaction to the penicillin, to no avail. She died on April 13. The California Department of Public Health classified Stella's death as both a drug reaction death and a legal abortion death. She was one of the growing number of safe-and-legal abortion deaths that were to soon almost completely replace illegal abortion deaths in the United States over the coming decade.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

The Lethal Work of Doctors, Before and After Legalization

Dr. Guy Brewer
Doris Jones, a 20-year-old mother of two, died April 11, 1935, from complications of a criminal abortion perpetrated on April 3. Dr. Guy E. Brewer, a 53-year-old bachelor known for his benevolence toward college students, was fingered as the culprit by Doris' husband, Victor. Brewer (pictured, right)  was a quiet, small-town doctor in Garber, Oklahoma. Doris' husband, Victor, a grocery clerk, had not known about the abortion until after Doris took ill. Doris' abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

"Terri" Roe is one of the women Life Dynamics notes on their "Blackmun Wall" of women killed by legalized abortion. On April 6, 1991, Terri, age 34, had an abortion at a doctor's office in the 1100 block of Summit Avenue in Union City, New Jersey. A nurse called the police saying that they needed emergency help for an unconscious patient. According to the police report, the doctor had already left the facility when the nurse called for help. Terri was taken to the hospital and placed on life support. She was pronounced dead on April 11, 1991.

Dr. Raymond Showery
Though we don't know who the perpetrator was that caused Terri's death, we do know who is responsible for the death of 28-year-old Mickey Apodaca.  Abortionist Raymond E. Showery (pictured, right) was out on bail appealing a murder conviction when he performed the safe, legal abortion that killed Mickey, a divorced mother of four, on April 11, 1984. She was about 19 weeks pregnant, and during the abortion, Showery tore a hole in Mickey's uterus and severed a uterine artery. Mickey hemorrhaged for two hours before she was transferred to a hospital, where she died during an emergency hysterectomy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mystery Death from 1964

Elva Lozada is listed on the Life Dynamics "Tombstone Project" poster as having died in California from a legal abortion in 1964. I have nothing in my notes that matches this woman, and Life Dynamics currently has nothing about her on their web site.

A web search reveals that Elva died on April 9, 1964 in Los Angeles. She was just short of her 28th birthday.

Life Dynamics "Tombstone Project."
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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Unknown Perp, Chicago 1828

On April 8, 1928, 26-year-old Mildred Jakobsen, a Chicago native, "took sick" at work. She died there before she could be taken to a hospital. On May 4, the Cook County coroner concluded that Mildred had died from complications of a criminal abortion, and recommended the identification and arrest of the person or persons responsible. Nobody was ever held accountable for Mildred's death.

Most Chicago abortions of the era were perpetrated by doctors or midwives.

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Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

Huffington Post and "Back-Alley" Alarmism: Part 1

Part 1: Was It That Bad Then? Is Now an Improvement?

Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post lamented "The Return of the Back-Alley Abortion."

The Introductory Cautionary Tale

Bassett begins with the story of  Karen Hulsey, who became pregnant out of wedlock in 1969 in spite of using a diaphragm. Her boyfriend turned out to be married, and, predictably, said that he would not help raise or pay for the child. Instead, he offered to arrange and pay for an abortion in Mexico. Karen was "ashamed and embarrassed," afraid as a Catholic of the spiritual ramifications, and "wrestled with the decision and was three months pregnant by the time she agreed to go.

Her lover put her on a chartered plane, which landed in a field and was met by a woman who took her to a tiny "clinic" with dirt floors. Karen, as a nurse's aid, worried about how sterile the instruments could be in such a place. After a "very rough" examination, the doctor sedated her for the abortion. Karen woke up during the procedure to find herself being raped. Afraid for her life, she pretended to still be unconscious and waited until the abortionist was finished before pretending to come out of anesthesia.

After being told that the aborted baby was a little boy, Karen was given a Kotex and sent home with a retained placenta. She ended up hemorrhaging and needing emergency care.

Later she suffered from incompetent cervix and had three miscarriages before undergoing surgery that enabled her to give birth, though the little girl was two months premature and weighed less than three pounds.

At first, Karen felt that she was being punished by God for what she'd done to her first child.  "I think that's baloney now," she says, "and that's why I'm willing to talk about it."

Was Karen's Experience Typical?

Bassett, as spokesperson for abortion-rights advocacy, asserts that what Karen endured was the status quo before 1973, when the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision "ruled that states must make abortion legal at least until the fetus is viable, around 22 to 24 weeks into pregnancy." (She conveniently omits that the SCOTUS also mandated that states make abortion legal until birth but allowed for restrictions that Roe's companion decision, Doe vs. Bolton, defined so broadly that any reason the woman gave would suffice.)

Basset then asserts, citing Planned Parenthood's research arm, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI):
[B]efore Roe, as many as 1.2 million women a year in the U.S. resorted to primitive, self-induced abortions or sought out illegal, amateur providers. Thousands of women ended up in hospitals each year with severe complications related to illegal abortions, and in 1965 alone, nearly 200 women died from those procedures.
Abortion Deaths

I have to give Bassett and the AGI credit for at least not dragging out the hoary and long-since discredited claim of 5,000 to 10,000 maternal deaths a year before Roe, so her assertion about the number of deaths is at least accurate. However, it's still misleading.

What she and the AGI conveniently omit is what was happening both prior to and after 1965. What was happening? Abortion deaths were plummeting, (see graph, right).

Credit is due not to legalization since, as you can clearly see, neither the first states legalizing abortion nor abortion-rights advocates' beloved Roe vs. Wade made so much as a blip in the trend. What was keeping women from dying was improvements in medical care. Thus, modern abortionists and their cheerleaders are claiming credit for other people's hard work.

The Numbers

AGI and Bassett equivocate some more with the claim that "as many as 1.2 million women a year in the U.S. resorted to primitive, self-induced abortions or sought out illegal, amateur providers." The weasel words "as many as" allow them to point out that technically, the assertion is not a lie. The actual number can be anything less than 1.2 million and still, from a strictly mathematical standpoint, the statement would be true. But the number is highly misleading.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, just over 600,000 women availed themselves of the newly-legalized abortions in 1973. In order for the 1.2 million illegal abortions number to be true, one of two things would have to have been happening:
  1. Half of all women undergoing abortions ignored the legal abortion facilities that were operating openly, advertising their presence, and instead chose to resort to underground, clandestine, secretive illegal abortion practitioners.
  2. Half of all women who would have otherwise resorted to abortion decided to forgo that choice once legalization made abortions easier to obtain.

The truth is, with legalization the number of women resorting to abortion annually climbed steadily, and did not approach 1.2 million until 1978.

The Abortionists





Mary Calderone
Regardless of the actual numbers, which logic tells us must have been fewer than 600,000 a year, what were the illegal abortionists like? Were pre-Roe abortions truly "primitive, self-induced abortions" or the work of "illegal, amateur providers"?

Let us turn to the experts on that issue. In 1955, Planned Parenthood Federation of America held a conference on induced abortion in the United States. As PPFA's medical director, Mary Calderone, concluded in "Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem" (American Journal of Public Health, July 1960), roughly 90% of pre-legalization abortions were performed by doctors, about 8% by the woman herself, and about 2% by non-physicians.

Nancy Howell Lee published her data based on interviews with women who had obtained abortions before legalization (The Search for an Abortionist, University of Chicago Press, 1969), and concluded that 89% of pre-legalization abortions were done by physicians, an additional 5% by nurses or others with some medical training, and 6% were done by non-medical persons or the woman herself.

Since both sources agree on the approximate 90% perpetrated by physicians, this number is probably fairly accurate. They disagree on the breakdown of non-physician abortions. I estimate that numbers were probably about 5% trained non-physicians (nurses, midwives, surgical technicians, etc.), 3% untrained accomplices, and 2% the woman herself.

The Quality of the Abortionists

Mary Calderone didn't classify the typical illegal physician-abortionist as a quack:
Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities. They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is
Alan Guttmacher
Alan Guttmacher, then-PPFA President and the man for whom the AGI is named, concurred:
The technique of the well-accredited criminal abortionist is usually good. They have to be good to stay in business, since otherwise they would be extremely vulnerable to police action. (M.D. Babies by Choice or by Chance, 1959)
As far as I've been able to see in my research into pre-legalization abortion deaths, the only circumstances under which quack abortionists of the "back-alley butcher" type were able to thrive was in communities where abortion was perceived as an ordinary and reasonable thing for a woman to do and any abortionist was seen as a helpful, well-meaning person who ought not to be punished even if he killed his patient. Where abortion was frowned upon, prosecution not only of the abortionist but of accomplices as well was the norm. In other words, a strong abortion-rights presence protected all abortionists, including quacks.

The True Picture

Clearly, pre-Roe America wasn't a country plagued with seedy, coathanger-wielding abortionists who maimed over a million women a year. Yes, there were some quacks, but unless abortion-rights people in positions of power or influence stepped in on their behalf, they were arrested and shut down, leaving the competent doctors who practiced without injuring their patients and thus drawing attention to themselves.

What we had was perhaps half a million women going to competent physician-abortionists, with a minority using a trained non-physician and a very few resorting to the untrained or themselves.

What Changed With Legalization?

As I've already noted, legalization had no effect on maternal mortality whatsoever. Did it have a change on practice?

As one would expect, the doctors who were perpetrating illegal abortions prior to legalization would hardly shut down their abortion practices. With legalization they could begin to openly advertise.

If there was any change in the quality of the care provided, it was for the worse once the threat of prison. Four erstwhile criminal abortionists that I know of had no patient deaths prior to legalization, but each went on to kill two women after legalization.


Milan Vuitch
They gambled with their patients' lives: Benjamin Munson sent his patients home with retained fetal parts; Jesse Ketchum performed hysterotomy abortions, which are like a c-section but with the intent of delivering a dead fetus, in the motel where he set up shop; Milan Vuitch used dirty instruments, left anesthetized and unconscious patients unattended for hours on end, and kept patients in his home overnight when they suffered complications.


Kermit Gosnell
The most famous -- nay, infamous -- "back-alley butcher" who hung out his shingle legally was Kermit Gosnell, whose Philadelphia "house of horrors" was flea-infested and littered with cat feces. Patients were routinely doped within inches of their lives by his unqualified staff -- two of whom had never even finished high school -- before Gosnell would show up for the day. Viable babies were routinely delivered alive and then killed via "snipping" -- cutting through their spines with surgical scissors.

Abortion-rights supporters tend to dismisse men such as these as "outliers," not at all representative of "high quality reproductive health care." This claim is a bald-faced lie.


Benjamin Munson
Vuitch and Munson both enjoyed high status within the abortion establishment. Vuitch's New York Times obituary praised him as a "fighter for abortion rights." Munson was a member of the prestigious National Abortion Federation. While not as high-profile as Vuitch or Munson, Ketchum got regular referrals from Clergy Consultation Service, a network that arranged abortions prior to Roe vs. Wade.

These men were not renegade abortionists that no reputable prochoicer would send women to. They were as mainstream as it was possible to be.

As for Gosnell, he worked part-time at a National Abortion Federation member clinic which would collect his fee and turn late-abortion patients over to him for care. These women ended up moaning on the blood-stained recliners in Gosnell's facility. The word to properly describe Gosnell isn't "outlier." It's "employee."