Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Mystery Death in 1876

Sarah Jane and her Family

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Jane Beaver lived with her mother, Mrs. Sarah Beaver Spencer, and her two brothers, Andrew and William, on a farm owned by Shepherd Cox in Ursa Township, near Quincy, Indiana.

Sarah Jane and her brothers were the children of their mother's first marriage, prior to the Civil War. Sarah Jane's father was a soldier who died at Vicksburg. The family went north after the war. They were poor and illiterate.

What to Do About Sarah's "Interesting Condition"

In April of 1876, Mrs. Spencer sent Sarah Jane and one of her brothers into town for some medicine. The two parted ways in town, and the boy was unable to find Jane. He went home to his mother alone. Though there were sightings of her with Cox in Texas, Sarah Jane remained at large until late July.

About four weeks after her return, Mrs. Spencer "discovered that the daughter was in an interesting condition".

Oil of Tansy Found

Sarah Jane named Cox, who was there during the conversation, as the responsible party. Shortly after this conversation, Mrs. Spencer said, she discovered a bottle with a few drops of oil of tansy -- a popular abortifacient -- in it. When confronted, Cox reportedly admitted that he had bought it for Sarah Jane.

A Mother's Objection

Shortly after this confrontation, Cox reportedly came to the house indicating that he had two tickets to the Centellian, and he wanted to take Sarah Jane with him so that he could "take her to a doctor who would make things all right". Mrs. Spencer said that she objected to the plan. Sarah Jane did not go with Cox to the Centellial.

A Mysterious Parcel

On about Tuesday, October 17, Mrs. Spencer said, Cox came to the house with something rolled up in a small parcel. Mrs. Spencer said that she went outside to do chores for about 20 minutes, and that when she returned she found her daughter with a broom in her hands and a flushed face. She denied that Cox had said anything to offend her. She was taken sick that night, and the next night expelled her dead baby.

Condition Grave

Mrs. Spencer said she sent for Dr. Duncan, who could not come until the next Wednesday, October 25. Duncan said that Sarah Jane had not miscarried but had undergone an abortion caused by instruments of some sort, used with force. Mrs. Spencer was able to show the fetus to Duncan. It was about three and a half months old.

When Cox came to the house, Mrs. Spencer told him that he had killed her daughter. Cox pointed out that Sarah Jane wasn't dead, and said he expected her to survive her illness.

Dr. Duncan continued to provide care to Sarah Jane, at first expecting her to recover, but her condition deteriorated. He asked her repeatedly to tell him who had gotten her pregnant and who had injured her. She made a statement to him that was not admissible in court because she didn't then believe she was dying.

Deathbed Statements

On the evening of Friday, October 27, Sarah Jane called her brothers to her bedside, told them she was dying, and asked their forgiveness.

She then spoke again to Dr. Duncan, telling him that she knew she was dying. He asked her again who had injured her. Mrs. Spencer was there, telling Sarah Jane to tell Dr. Duncan who had done the deed, but shaking her head all the while as if to warn Sarah Jane not to speak. Sarah Jane told Dr. Duncan, "I did it." After her mother left the room, Duncan again asked Sarah Jane to name the guilty party.
Dr. Duncan: Who did it?
Sarah Jane: I did.
Dr. Duncan: But who helped you?
Sarah Jane: My God, I have done wrong.
Dr. Duncan: Tell me who helped you?
Sarah Jane: I did.
Dr. Duncan: You could not have done it alone. Who helped you?
Sarah Jane: He did it, with instruments.
Sarah Jane died the following morning.

Covering Up

On Sunday, Cox came to the house, crying and lamenting Sarah Jane's death. Mrs. Spencer said Cox told her to keep quiet about the death, since if she said anything about it she would get into trouble. He pointed out that she had no money, but he had money and would help the family and pay the doctor's bills.

Dr. Duncan corroborated that Cox promised to pay the $56 medical bill, although he quibbled about the price.

Andrew and William corroborated their mother's testimony about Sarah Jane's April disappearance, her return, seeing Cox at the house the night before Sarah Jane took ill, and his visiting twice during her illness. The boys also testified that they'd heard Cox say he'd help with the medical bills. They also testified to Sarah Jane's deathbed plea for their forgiveness.

Indictment, Trial, and Acquittal

Cox was indicted for murder in December, 1876. He fled to avoid prosecution. Eventually his attorney negotiated a deal for him to return for the trial but remain free on bail of $3,000. He was also able to negotiate a change of venue, so that the trial took place in Hancock County.

During the trial, several witnesses placed Cox at a distance from the farm on October 17 -- the day the abortion allegedly was performed.

Dr. Parks, another area physician, testified that Mrs. Spencer had showed him a catheter and a probe asking if they could be used to cause an abortion and lamenting that her daughter was pregnant. Parks told Mrs. Spencer that the instruments would not produce an abortion. Afterward, he testified, he saw the instruments in the possession of Dr. Springer. Springer said he'd bought them from Mrs. Spencer.

Another witness, Mrs. Arnez, stated that while she and Mrs. Spencer were in jail together, Mrs. Spencer had told her that Shep Cox had nothing to do with her daughter's death.

It took the jury a full day of sparring to come back with a verdict of not guilty.

Context

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.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion.

Three Lives Ended in 1947: Heiress, Baby, and Doctor

At 11 AM on October 17, 1947, Dr. Paul Singer, a gynecologist, called police and reported that a woman had come to his office suffering from an incomplete abortion. She reportedly had staggered in, "slumped over with her head down on her chest." Singer said she lapsed into a coma while he was beginning his examination.

He said that he had taken 22-year-old Jane Ward, heir to the Drake Bakeries fortune, to Park East Hospital, "almost pulseless -- lifeless -- she was almost dead." Dr. Oswald Glasberg, a plastic surgeon, had helped him to complete the abortion.

Jane died on October 28, and the autopsy confirmed the cause of death as criminal abortion.

After the death, Singer and Glasberg were arrested and released on bail. The baby's father, Eduardo Schneidewind, a trade promotion executive for a South American government, was questioned as a material witness but was never indicted. He said that he had arranged the abortion through Dr. Alejandro Ovalle, an X-ray technician, paying $2,000. Ovalle then gave Glassman $900.

Ovalle was sentenced to one year after pleading guilty as an accessory, having profited from abortion referrals.

Singer's first trial ended in a mistrial when one juror fainted during testimony regarding Jane's injuries. He was eventually convicted of manslaughter in Jane's death, and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. The judge, Francis L. Valente, said that Jane had been subjected to "surgical mayhem," and that Singer and Glassberg were "completely devoid of human feeling and decency."

Glassberg was also convicted and sentenced to prison, but was never sentenced because six hours after the verdict on June 14, 1948, Glassberg committed suicide in his cell, having poisoned himself.

Singer appealed his conviction, which was upheld.

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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Safe and Legal in 1993

On October 9, 1993, 25-year-old Giselene Lafontant underwent an abortion by a Dr. Scher at Gynecare in Monsey, New York. She was 9 or 10 weeks pregnant.

Within 20 minutes, Giselene had no pulse. She was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and placed on a respirator.

Efforts to save her life failed; Giselene died on October 28.

A bad inspection that authorities chose not to learn from


Dayton Women's Health Services had been caught operating without a license in 1999. It was inspected on October 27, 1999, to see if a license should be granted. Inspectors found rusty instruments, improperly-marked medications, and a failure to follow sterile technique. The clinic administrators were told they'd have to correct the problems to get a license. The clinic got the license after getting a waiver regarding follow-up care for patients.

Evidently the presumption was made that a place that had rusty instruments could be trusted to clean up their act.

Just short of a year later, on October 11, 2000, Detroit police were called a private residence to investigate the report of an unresponsive 21-year-old woman. The young woman was L'Echelle R. Head. She was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 7:45 p.m. Preliminary reports were that she likely suffered some sort of embolism after an abortion at none other than Dayton Women's Health Services. 

An Early Beneficiary of "Safe and Legal" in California

Sixteen-year-old Natalie F. Meyers was brought to San Vicente Hospital in Los Angeles by her mother for a safe and legal abortion on October 21, 1972. Milton Gotlib injected saline into Natalie's uterus on the 21st. The saline would cause an abortion by poisoning the fetus. The death of the fetus would then induce labor.

On October 22, Natalie expelled the dead baby but retained the placenta. She had trouble breathing and suffered abdominal pain, so San Vicente staff transferred Natalie to County-USC Medical Center just before midnight.

Natalie was in shock when she arrived at County-USC. She underwent a D&C there, but remained in shock from infection in her uterus. On October 26, a hysterectomy was performed to try to control the infection, to no avail. Natalie was pronounced dead at 9:35AM on October 27.

The autopsy found most of Natalie's internal organs swollen and hemorrhagic. Death was attributed to hyaline membrane disease brought on by the abortion.

Natalie is one of many women to die at one of Edward Allred's facilities. Others known to have died after abortion at Allred's facilities include:

Rembering the baby nobody remembers

People still wonder
about Baby Jessica.

Time goes by so fast. The little girl whose picture was once ubiquitous in the newspapers is now celebrating her 23rd birthday.  After a brief spate of publicity in 1991 and 1992, she vanished totally from public view.

Nobody looks for updates on Baby Ana the way they continue to look for updates on Baby Jessica. The picture of Baby Jessica being rescued from a well was an image of hope and triumph. The picture of Baby Ana was an uncomfortable reminder that not all lives are valued as much as Baby Jessica's was. Ana's life, in fact, had no value at all.

How Ana wound up as front-page news, and featured on Phil Donohue, began on October 25, 1991 when Rosa Rodriguez, 20 years old, went to National Abortion Federation member Abu Hayat's Avenue A abortion practice on New York's lower East Side.. A single mother with a 2-year-old daughter, Rosa had found Hayat's practice, Women's Medical Clinic, by reading his ad in a Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario.

Hayat charged $1,500 for the procedure, for which Rosa produced $1,000 cash and her passport, green card, and her watch as collateral for the remaining $500. On this first visit, Hayat sedated Rosa, inserted laminaria to dilate her cervix, and gave her some sort of abdominal injection. When she awoke he sent her home, instructing her to return the following day.

Rosa returned as instructed at about 9 a.m., but she expressed misgivings about proceeding with the abortion, since she had felt fetal movement. She said that she had changed her mind. Hayat told her that it was too late to stop the abortion. Rosa said that two assistants held her down and clamped her feet into the stirrups while Hayat again sedated her. When she awoke, he told her that he had changed the laminaria, and again instructed her to return the following day. Hayat gave Rosa specific instructions that if she had any problems, she was to call his facility and no one else.

That night, Rosa was in pain, so she called as instructed. Hayat's assistant, who took the call, paged Hayat and then told Rosa that this was normal, that Hayat had said she "wasn't ready" for "further treatment".

Rosa called again when the pain would not abate. After several hours, she finally told her mother about the abortion. A family friend called an ambulance to take Rosa to Jamaica Hospital in Queens. There, at about 8 a.m. on October 27, Rosa gave birth to a 3 lb. 1 oz. baby girl of approximately 32 weeks of gestation. The little girl was healthy except for a traumatically amputated right arm. Doctors at the hospital performed a D&C, an abdominal X-ray, and an ultrasound on the young mother, trying to find the baby's arm. Evidently Hayat had removed it in the abortion attempt and disposed of it.
Nobody asks,
"What happened to
Baby Ana?"


 Somehow the story got out, and all hell broke loose.

The medical board took action, faulting Hayat with lack of informed consent,  failure to perform a complete examination,  having inadequate facility and staff, having medical records that were "not credible and are incomplete", and for performing an illegal third-trimester abortion. They revoked his license.

Hayat's receptionist, Marjorie Andrade, testified before the medical board that Hayat did any number of dubious things, including keeping a 6-month fetus in his freezer for two weeks in spite of the law requiring that fetuses be sent to a pathology lab. She testified that she never saw him sterilize any instrument, that he re-used them when they had dried blood on them. She also was interviewed on WNBC-TV, saying, "I've never seen any instruments sterilized. He used to rinse them out with water and soap."

More than thirty additional women stepped forward to complain that he had botched their abortions. Though he had been sued numerous times, none of the women had been able to collect because he did not have malpractice insurance and had declared bankruptcy.

While the circus was at its peak, National Right to Life seized onto the story in its attack on the newly-reborn late term abortion method they dubbed "Partial-Birth Abortion", even though Hayat had evidently been using an established variation of the more common Dilation and Evacuation procedure. And, interestingly, National Right to Life never took note of one particularly telling fact: Hayat was a dues-paying member in good standing of the prestigious National Abortion Federation.

Newspapers investigating "The Butcher of Avenue A" also learned from the medical board that the previous year Hayat had botched an abortion resulting in the death of 17-year-old Sophie McCoy.

Abu Hayat in court
Hayat was prosecuted for assault against both Rosa and her unborn daughter, as well as for other cases, and sentenced to a total of 29 years in prison. Hayat remained unrepentant, and told the judge who sentenced him, "I am in a very difficult situation. I know I am not guilty. .... I compare myself the best of any of the witnesses. I could teach them."

Rosa Rodriguez, noting the lack of success other patients had in seeking redress, didn't sue. "There really very little point," her attorney said.

It's hard for me to conjectur that Ana is thriving. The day before every birthday is the anniversary of the day that her arm was torn off during an attempt to kill her. And that attempt to kill her was something her mother had sought out and paid for.

Still, the human spirit is strong. Gianna Jessen, who has cerebral palsy as a result of a prenatal attempt on her life, is thriving and happy. Here's wishing the same to Ana Rodriguez. Wherever you are: Happy Birthday.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ignorance, Like Mushrooms, Grows Best in the Dark


CALLER: Since you said that you would not inform a consumer of anything specific unless there was a major problem, in which case the person would no longer be a [National Abortion Federation] member, what do you do in the case of something like Lichtenberg in Chicago, where he had that 13-year-old girl die? Would you tell a consumer about that if she asked if anyone had died at that clinic?

NAF SPOKESWOMAN: Well, I don't have that information, and our -- the people that work the hotline don't have that information readily available right now. Their basic goal is to refer them to a NAF member clinic, and that's what they do.
I taped that conversation with Susan Shapiro of NAF on October 19, 1995, while I was doing research for Lime 5. What Ms. Shapiro evidently didn't know is that I'd taped another very interesting conversation with one of their referral hotline counselors just the previous day. Posing as a woman scheduled for an abortion at Edward Allred's Albany clinic in Chicago, I expressed misgivings. I said that I'd heard of a patient death there. The counselor had assured me, "All of the complications are reported here, and if there was an excessive amount of complications, they would not be a member of the National Abortion Federation." She described Albany's abortionist, Steve Lichtenberg, as, "a very, very excellent doctor, very well respected." She dismissed the death as "just a rumor."


National Abortion Federation Promises
Screen capture of assurance of safe, quality care on National Abortion Federation web site. It reads: "What is a NAF Clinic? NAF is the professional association of abortion providers in North America. .... In order to become a member, a clinic must complete a rigorous application process. Member clinics have agreed to comply with our standards for quality and care.... NAF periodically conducts site visits to confirm that our clinics are in compliance with our guidelines.

I called back later and told the counselor that someone had told me to ask about Deanna Bell. (Thirteen-year-old Deanna had died at Albany after an abortion by Lichtenberg.) The counsellor put me on hold, then came back and said that I was confused, that I was thinking of Becky Bell. Becky, the counselor told me, had died from "an illegal abortion. She hadn't called the National Abortion Federation. She obviously did not go to a NAF member." I insisted that I had the girl's name correct -- it was Deanna, not Becky -- and that the abortion had been at Albany. The counselor was adamant. Whoever had told me that someone named Deanna Bell had died after an abortion at Albany "might be an anti-choice person."

There is no doubt in my mind that the counsellor was shocked and confused when I could put a name to the rumored dead girl. As I sat on hold, I imagined the counselor seeking information, wanting to know if the story of Deanna's death was true. And I imagine that somebody said to her, "She must be thinking of Becky Bell." (Becky Bell had been the furthest thing from my mind; I'd chosen the Deanna Bell case because Albany was part of Family Planning Associates Medical Group, NAF's flagship chain of abortion clinics, and because Lichtenberg is a high-profile member who often trains his fellow abortionists at NAF Risk Management Seminars). I believe that Susan Shapiro was telling the truth when she said that NAF didn't give hotline counselors information on malpractice and death at NAF clinics. After all, it is easier to get people to sell a product they believe in.

It is also entirely possible that whoever the counselor consulted was equally in the dark about Deanna Bell's fatal encounter with Steve Lichtenberg. After Deanna's death, Albany sent a thank-you letter, signed by Lichtenberg, to the hospital that had referred Deanna to them, describing her abortion as "uneventful." Either abortion deaths are so common as to be unworthy of comment, or Lichtenberg and his staff were hoping that they could send a 13-year-old girl out under a sheet without anybody noticing.
CALLER: Okay, and if they asked if there was malpractice at that facility, or by that practitioner, would you inform them?

NAF SPOKESWOMAN: We don't have that -- No, we would not inform them of anything specific, unless there was a problem. Then they wouldn't be NAF members if there was something -- if there was a serious problem, and if the complications were -- were serious, you know.

Examples of some problems and complications that weren't serious:
  • Diane Boyd: This mentally-disabled rape victim was given drugs that fatally interacted with her regular meds.
  • Chanelle Bryant: Chanelle was given RU-486 in an off-label manner at an FPA facility in southern California.
  • Patricia Chacon: Patty's parents claim that she bled to death while left unattended.
  • Barbaralee Davis: Eighteen-year-old Barbaralee was the first woman to die of abortion complications in member facility of the then newly-formed NAF.
  • Laniece Dorsey: Seventeen-year-old Laniece lapsed into a coma and died. She was one of a dozen patients I know of who have died from complications of abortions at Family Planning Associates Medical Group.
  • Tamika Dowdy: Twenty-two-year-old Tamika died of a botched abortion while her rapper boyfriend waited to tell her he'd just gotten a recording contract.
  • Josefina Garcia: FPA staff failed to diagnose Josefina's ectopic pregnancy.
  • Christin Gilbert: This developmentally-disabled teen was taken to George Tiller's infamous late-abortion facility in Wichita for a third-trimester abortion that he managed somehow to justify on "health" grounds.
  • Susan Levy: This homeless woman was found dead in her friend's car.
  • Dawn Mack: NAF member facility Eastern Women's Center is responsible for the death of 21-year-old Dawn, as well as Dawn Ravenelle and Venus Ortiz.
  • Sophie McCoy: Seventeen-year-old Sophie died after an abortion by NAF member Abu Hayat, who is best known for having ripped the arm off a 32-week-fetus, Ana Rosa Rodriguez, who was born maimed.
  • Yvonne Mesteth: Despite the fact that he was already responsible for the death of 28-year-old Linda Padfield, Benjamin Munson was welcomed into NAF.
  • Denise Montoya: Denise was fifteen years old when her parents brought her to Women's Pavilion in Houston for an abortion on May 13, 1988, performed by Douglas Karpen.
  • Christine Mora: Christine's abortion was rushed through in only three minutes.
  • Kimberly Neil: Kimberly's family alleged that she was not properly attended after she suffered anesthesia complications.
  • Sara Niebel: Fifteen-year-old Sara died after an abortion at NAF member Midtown Hospital.
  • Joyce Ortenzio: Joyce was sent home from her abortion with fetal parts still in her uterus.
  • Venus Ortiz: Venus was 23 years old when an abortion at Eastern Women's Center left her in a coma from which she never recovered.
  • Catherine Pierce: Inspectors cited Atlanta Surgi-Center for administering "the same anesthesia dosages" to patients whose weights ranges from 107 to 167 pounds, inadequate record keeping, and inadequate supervision of patients.
  • Mary Pena: Mary's abortion death was uncovered by a vital records clerk who noticed problems with her death certificate.
  • Dawn Ravenelle: This 13-year-old girl was left unattended to lapse into a fatal coma.
  • Tamiia Russell: Fifteen-year-old Tamiia's was brought for a secret, illegal abortion by her abuser's sister.
  • Angela Scott and Delores Smith: NAF member facility Atlanta Women's Pavilion managed to fatally injure these two teens in the same hour.
  • Oriane Shevin: Oriane was given her abortion drugs in an off-label manner at Eve Surgical Center.
  • Tami Suematsu: Tami suffered an asthma attack during her abortion.
  • Latachie Veal: After her abortion, Latachie was sent home to bleed to death.
  • Nichole Williams: In addition to Nichole's death, NAF member Robert Crist has two other deaths to his discredit: Latachie Veal and Diane Boyd.

    The converasations quoted here are cited in Lime 5 by Mark Crutcher, copyright 1996 Life Dynamics Inc.
  • Saturday, October 25, 2014

    When Abortion Deaths Weren't Brushed Off

    On a mid-October day, October 12, to be specific, 33-year-old homemaker Agnes Johnson went to the Chicago office of Dr. Joseph Stern for an abortion.
     
    After leaving Stern's office, Agnes took ill. She died on October 26.
     
    Had the year been 2009, Stern could have expected prolifers to take to the internet with pictures from Agnes's Facebook page and to pester the Illinois medical board to investigate the circumstances of Agnes' death. And unless the board found something Gosnellesque -- say, a high school student administering massive amounts of powerful drugs or rows of severed fetal feet in specimen containers or a room full of soiled recliners upon which women writhed and moaned while waiting for their abortions to be completed -- that would probably be the end of it. The board would declare that Stern had done no wrong and as long as Stern didn't Google his dead patient's name, he'd probably never have to give Agnes another thought.
     
    The absolute worst case scenario for Stern had the year been 2009, or 1999 or 1989 or even 1979, would have been that Agnes' survivors would have sued him. Again, unless there was some Gosnellesque behavior, the insurance company would take care of all that and it would all blow over. Stern could go about his business unimpeded. 
     
    Agnes Johnson
    But the year was 1929, and an abortion patient's death wasn't something that could be shrugged off as one of those things that just happen and only weirdo right-to-lifers could possibly get their knickers into a twist over. This was 1929, and a woman's abortion death was homicide. Stern was arrested that day, and on November 1, he was indicted for felony murder by a grand jury.

    I've been unable to find out what repercussions there were for Stern beyond the indictment. One thing is safe to say, though: His life would have been a lot easier had abortion been legal.

    Whether Agnes would have benefitted is another matter.

    What are we to make of a pre-legalization death?

    On October 25, 1922, 24-year-old homemaker Lillian Hulbert died at Chicago's St. Anne's Hospital from complications of a criminal abortion performed on her there that day. The coroner identified a Mrs. M.C. Anderson as responsible for Lillian's death. Anderson's profession is given as nurse or midwife.

    Abortion rights groups will blame the deaths of women like Lillian on the legal status of abortion at the time. Seeking out a midwife, ad Lillian did, rather than a doctor, wasn't because of abortion's illegality but because women of that era often went to midwives rather than doctors for all of their obstetric and gynecological issues.

    Graph showing abortion deaths in the US since 1940. The graph falls sharply from 1940 to 1950, levels off a bit in the 1050s, then resumes a downward trend unchanged by Roe vs. Wade, which is marked with a vertical line at 1073.
    Abortion-rights activists also forget that all surgery, including induced abortion, was riskier in the pre-legalization days. As the 20th century progressed, all maternal mortality, including abortion mortality, fell as medical care improved. Antibiotics and blood transfusions -- along with overall better health due to increasing prosperity -- deserve the credit for falling mortality, which was hardly caused retroactively by the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling striking down all the nation's abortion laws.

    No doubt there was quackery prior to legalization -- but such quackery persists today. Removing the threat of jail for any but the most egregious behavior does not provide motivation to run a tight ship. Three erstwhile criminal abortionists that I know of -- Benjamin Munson, Milan Vuitch, and Jesse Ketchum -- didn't lose a single abortion patient until after legalization made them less fearful of repercussions and thus far more careless. Each went on to kill two legal abortion patients, not out of simple surgical complications, but due to appalling quackery.

    It's time we got real about how little is different between illegal and legal abortion practice: the main difference is how much risk of being shut down or sent to prison the safe-and-legal abortionist faces.

    Friday, October 24, 2014

    A Chicago death from 1917

    On October 24, 1917, 24-year-old homemaker Stella Ahern died at her Chicago home from an abortion performed by an unknown perpetrator.

    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.

    In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America. The fact that abortion-rights organizations claim credit for what others accomplished in public health and medical care speaks volumes about their character.

    For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

    A fatal screw-up at a National Abortion Federation clinic, 1981

    Trusting your child to a National Abortion Federation clinic might not be as good an idea as you think. Problematic practices have plagued them since the beginning.

    Nineteen-year-old Dianne Boyd, who had the mental capacity of a 14-month-old child, lived in a state institution for the mentally disabled. She was on an all-female ward. There, she was beaten and raped in July of 1981, and was later discovered to be pregnant.

    When she was four months pregnant, a safe, legal abortion was arranged for Diane by her mother, with court approval, at National Abortion Federation member Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis.

    Diane's mother signed a consent form. The abortion was performed October 22, 1981. Diane went into a coma and was declared dead after being removed from life support the on the 24th.

    According to suits later filed by Diane's mother, RHS staff and abortionist Robert Crist did not check for possible drug interactions before giving Diane valium and sublimaze. These drugs evidently reacted with Diane's usual medication, thorazine, causing her to stop breathing. Diane's mother said that the clinic lacked heart monitoring equipment or resuscitation equipment.

    Diane was not the last woman to die after abortion by Crist. Seventeen-year-old Latatchie Veal bled to death after an abortion by Crist in 1991. Twenty-two-year-old Nichole Williams died of DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulopathy) after an abortion by Crist in 1997.

    Fourteen-year-old Sandra Kaiser committed suicide after a 1984 abortion at RHS, performed without her mother's knowledge or consent.

    A reminder of how much we can trust the National Abortion Federation

    The story of how Delores Smith died on October 24, 1979 began on June 2 of 1979, when National Abortion Federation member Atlanta Women's Pavillion rose to new levels of incompetence. On that day, when staff there managed to fatally injure two teenage abortion patients in less than an hour.

    It all began when 19-year-old Angela Scott stopped breathing in the recovery room. An unregistered nurse-anesthetist was administering anesthesia to 14-year-old Delores Smith while Dr. Jacob Adams was performing her abortion. The nurse-anesthetist ran to assist in efforts to revive Angela, leaving Delores unattended with her anesthesia drip still running.

    After staff had resuscitated Angela and loaded her into an ambulance, they returned their attention to Delores, who had gone into cardio-respiratory arrest. Adams had accompanied Angela to the Grady Memorial Hospital, and staff refused to release Dolores to an ambulance until the physician had returned to discharge her. This resulted in a 30-minute delay, during which the ambulance crew was unable to attend to Delores or begin transporting her.

    Angela lingered for a week in a coma before dying on June 11. Delores never regained consciousness and eventually was admitted to a nursing home, where she died of adult respiratory distress syndrome on October 24, shortly after her fifteenth birthday.

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Early 20th Century: 2 Doctors and an Unknown Perp

    On October 23, 1913, 22-year-old Mary Tureck died in Chicago from an abortion performed by an unknown perpetrator.

    On October 23, 1920, 19-year-old Francis Karies died at Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital from a criminal abortion that had been performed in Akron, Ohio, by Dr. C. W. Milliken. The coroner recommended Milliken's arrest, but there is no record if any legal action was taken against him for Francis's death. It's not likely that any action was taken, since Milliken was free to perpetrate a fatal abortion on Iva Triplet in Akron the following year.

    On October 16, 1936, 26-year-old Katherine DiDonato, mother of two, was admitted to Roosevelt Hospital to be treated for complications of a criminal abortion. Katherine's husband reported that the abortion had taken place three days earlier. Detectives were told that Katherine had bought pills from drug clerk Hyman Kantor, who had then recommended Dr. Aloysius Mulholland to perform an abortion. Katherine died at 2 AM on October 23. Both Mulholland and Kantor were arrested and charged with homicide. Katherine's abortion was typical of pre-Roe abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

    1913: A Confession Questioned, a Conviction Upheld

    Emma Bickel, a 59-year-old Chicago midwife, was charged with second-degree manslaugher in the death of 19-year-old Emily Nohavec of St. Louis. Bickel had been a midwife for 28 years, and had a reputation for "uprightness" and honesty.

    Emily Nohavec, age 19, was single, and had been living with her sister in St. Louis, where she worked as a clerk in her sister‘s vegetable store. On October 18, 1913, she first reported feeling ill. On Monday, October 20, a Dr. Reber was summoned to see her. He diagnosed her with septic peritonitis. The next day, her condition was critical and she was admitted to Rebekah Hospital. There, Dr. Garcia was called in for consultation. Drs. Reber and Garcia agreed that an immediate laparotomy was needed to try to save Emily‘s life.

    The doctors found Emily‘s abdominal cavity inflamed. A cyst about the size of a pear surrounded her left ovary, her right ovary was surrounded by pus, and there was pus in her fallopian tubes. The doctors removed these purulent organs and inserted drainage tubes.

    Dr. Reber also curetted Emily‘s uterus and packed it with iodoform gauze. Emily‘s uterus noted an ulceration about the size of a hazelnut inside the cervix. The edges of this ulceration were ragged and torn, and Reber concluded that this was caused by instrumentation. Reber also believed that swelling near where the fallopian tube entered the uterus was caused by instrumentation. Reber believed that an abortion had been performed a week to ten days before he was first called to examine Emily.

    Dr. Garcia, on the other hand, agreed that Emily had recently been pregnant, and that the pregnancy had ended at about two months, but noted "there were no direct punctures or cuts, scratches, or anything of that kind in the uterus, or in the abdomen." He agreed with Dr. Reber that the sepsis was caused by an abortion, but he disagreed about the abortion having been induced. Dr. Garcia concluded that Emily might merely have miscarried.

    Despite the efforts of both doctors, Emily died the following day, October 23.

    That same day, Dr. Hockdoerfer performed an autopsy. He made the same findings as Drs. Garcia and Reber, except that he also found a section of placental implantation about the size of a quarter. He agreed that retained placental tissue had caused the sepsis, but did not find any signs of damage from instruments. Emily had been in good health prior to her final, fatal illness.

    While Emily was hospitalized, police officer William H. Coates arrested St. Louis midwife Emma Bickel and brought her to Emily‘s bedside. Coates testified that he asked Bickel if she knew the girl, and Bickel said yes, she did know her. Coates testified that he then said, "You performed an abortion on her, didn‘t you?" To which, he testified, Bickel replied, "Yes."

    Coates took Bickel to the police station where she made a statement. Coates wrote out the statement as follows:

    Department of Police, City of St. Louis.
    7:16 P. M., Oct. 22, 1913.

    To whom it may concern I herein state that on or about October 13th, 1913, Emily Nohavec came to my house in the evening and said she was in trouble and wanted me to help her out. I told her it was dangerous for to do a thing like that, and she said, ‘You need not be afraid,‘ that ‘I won't tell on you.‘ I then inserted a catheter into the private parts and opened her womb. She then paid me about five or seven dollars; I don‘t remember which. She came back in two days, and I again put the catheter into the womb. She left, and I never saw her until I saw her this evening at the hospital.

    The above statement was made of my own free will, and not by any threats or promises or violence to me.

    [Signed] Emma Bickel.
    Witnesses: Off. W. H. Coates; Off. David J. O‘Connor.

    HooperBox.jpg
    Vintage abortion pills
    When called upon to testify in court, however, Bickel denied having performed an abortion on Emily. She said that she never knew Emily until the girl came to her house, saying that she was "in trouble." Bickel said that she asked Emily, "How far along?" To which Emily replied that her period was two weeks late. Bickel said that Emily told her that she was married, and that she had taken some medicine to cause an abortion, and had also taken a box of pills. Bickel said that she told Emily, "Well, if you are only two weeks gone they ought to bring you by your next monthlies." Bickel said that she then sent Emily away.

    Bickel said that about two weeks later Emily, who had still not given her name, returned, saying that she was ill, and willing to pay $7 for an examination. Bickel said that she used a speculum to examine Emily, and found her cervix open and exuding a foul discharge. Bickel testified that she told Emily to consult a doctor. She said that this took place about two weeks prior to Emily‘s death, and that she‘d not seen the girl between the examination and being brought to the hospital by Officer Coates.

    Bickel testified that she had confirmed that she knew Emily, and that the girl had come to her house, but that Coates did not ask her at the hospital if she had performed an abortion. She said that she was taken to the police station, that Coates had written out the statement and told her to sign it, so she‘d complied.

    Bickel said that she‘d never told Coates that she‘d inserted a catheter, that she‘d tried to discourage abortion, telling Emily "that it was a dangerous thing to do a thing like that." She said that she‘d only signed the statement because she was excited and confused and was merely doing what she was told.

    Despite her protestations of innocence, Bickel was convicted. She was sentenced to three years in prison. She unsuccessfully appealed her conviction.

    Monday, October 20, 2014

    What Legalization Wrought

    Carole Schaner was 37 years old when she traveled from Ohio to Buffalo, New York, for a safe and legal abortion. to be performed by Dr. Jesse Ketchum. She had been referred by a local abortion advocacy organization, West Shore Center. Carole was divorced and caring for her four children.

    Ketchum was a former criminal abortionist from Ypsilanti, Michigan who had relocated to New York specifically to open an abortion practice in a more congenial atmosphere, no doubt weary of repeated arrests on his home turf.

    Things seemed to be going okay for Ketchum in Buffalo. Even though he had allowed another abortion patient, Margaret Smith, to bleed to death in his office from a hysterotomy abortion four months earlier, he was still free to practice.

    Ketchum likewise performed a vaginal hysterotomy on Carole on October 20, 1971. She was 14 weeks pregnant. A hysterotomy is similar to a C-section, except that the intention is to deliver a dead fetus rather than a living baby.

    After the abortion, Carole went into shock, and was taken to a hospital. Despite all efforts, Carole died before doctors could even fully assess the extent of her injuries, leaving her children motherless.

    The autopsy found that Carole's cervix and uterus had been cut open, and an artery outside her uterus had been cut. It also noted sutures that had evidently been put in by Ketchum in an attempt to repair the damage. The sutures, however, completely closed Carole's cervix, allowing her to continue bleeding from the injured uterus and artery.

    Another former criminal abortionist, Milan Vuitch, also had kept his nose clean as a criminal abortionist, then went on to kill two legal abortion patients. Wilma Harris and Georgianna English both died under Vuitch's care. Benjamin Munson, likewise, had a clean record in his criminal abortionist then went on to kill two women in his supposedly safer legal practice -- Linda Padfield and Yvonne Mesteth. So much for the idea that removing the threat of prison would somehow encourage the doctors who did abortions to exercise greater care.

    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.

    external image Abortion+Deaths+Since+1960.jpg

    1921: Who Killed Annie?

    On October 20, 1921, 30-year-old Annie Sczepkowski died at Jefferson Park Hospital in Chicago from complications of an abortion perpetrated by an unknown suspect. Tillie Pawlowski was arrested, but exonerated by the Coroner.

    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.


    During the first two thirds of the 20th Century, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality, including mortality from abortion. Most researches attribute this plunge to improvements in public health and hygiene, the development of blood transfusion techniques, and the introduction of antibiotics. These improvements happened long before legalization, and credit for them is due to those who improved both public health and medical practice, not to those who came along afterward and laud themselves for what others have done. Learn more here.