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.





Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Pattern of Quackery and a Dead Teen

Nineteen-year-old Christina Goesswein, ("Patient A" in medical board documents) was almost 23 weeks pregnant when she went to the office of Dr. Hachamovitch on October 17, 1990, and the first part of the three-day abortion procedure was started that day. She was sent home and told to return the following day to have her cervix dilated even further for the abortion, which would take place on the 19th.

She came back on the 18th and had more laminaria inserted then returned home. That evening, her boyfriend called the doctor's office because Christina was having cramping. He was told to give her pain medicine.

Christina's boyfriend called again several hours later because he felt that she was running a fever, but Christina told Dr. Hachamovitch's employee who was taking call that evening that she was okay.

Early in the morning of the 19th, the boyfriend called the employee again because Christina was experiencing heavy bleeding, cramping and vomiting. Christina stated that she felt that she was in labor. The employee instructed Christina to go to Hachamovitch's office where she and the doctor would meet her.

They all met at the office some time between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. After arriving at there, Christina lost control of her bowels. Hachamovitch then delivered her 24-week fetus in one piece.

Because Christina was not recovering as she should have, Dr. Hachamovitch decided to admit her to an area hospital, but before this could be done, Christina quit breathing and her heart stopped.

Somebody called 911 at about 4:20 a.m., and Dr. Hachamovitch began CPR. Christina was taken to a Bronx hospital where she was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m. on October 19, due to an amniotic fluid embolism.

Hachamovitch's license was suspended over his false documentation regarding administration of oxygen, and the Christina's blood loss, as well as numerous serious failures in his treatment of Christina both during the abortion and after she showed signs of complications. Among the problems:


  • His record-keeping was dangerously inadequate.
  • He failed to ensure that Christina got immediate care when she was displaying life-threatening complications, instead arranging for her to travel and meet him at his practice.
    He continued with an abortion in an outpatient setting even after observing for himself how dangerous Christina's condition was.
  • He didn't have any qualified staff assisting with the risky task of anesthetizing his patient.
  • He failed to promptly notice that Christina had stopped breathing and failed to resuscitate her properly.
Christina wasn't the only patient to lose her life due to Hachamovitch's unwillingness or inability to manage his practice. Two other patients, Tanya Williamson in 1996 and Luz Rodriguez in 1986, had died of malpractice under his care. Three patients died after abortions in clinics he owned and managed elsewhere -- Lisa Bardsley and Lou Ann Herron in Arizona and Jammie Garcia in Texas.



Sources: New York State Board For Professional Medical Conduct No. 93-127; State Board of New York Statement of Charges September 16, 1992; "History of trouble at clinics," Arizona Republic, January 17, 1999; United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Docket No. 97-9065; "Clinic head faces complaints," Arizona Republic July 15, 1998; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit - 159 F.3d 687 (1998)

Abortion deaths by "abortion provider" and naturopath

On October 19, 1910, 32-year-old Pelagia Usurowski died after an abortion performed in Chicago by Rosalie Tamajoski, whose profession is identified in the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database as "abortion provider.

Let's move ahead to 1850. Sylvia Redman had a license to practice naturopathy in Texas; a naturopath is a physician. Redman signed a written confession on October 20 regarding the death of Betty Ledel the previous day. Redman had been using a syringe to force air into Betty's uterus every day since October 8 trying to dislodge the fetus. During the final attempt, Redman reported, Betty said "I feel choky," then passed out on the floor bleeding from the vagina. Redman's attempts to resuscitate her were in vain. Betty had died form an air embolism.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

A mystery death and a criminal ring uncovered

On October 18, 1920, 30-year-old homemaker Alice Jolly died at Chicago's Englewood Hospital from a criminal abortion perpetrated by somebody who was never identified.

An investigation two decades later, on the other hand, was much more successful.

On October 18, 1942, 23-year-old Harriet Lichtenberg of Brooklyn died in Royal Hospital, the Bronx, from suspected criminal abortion complications. Harriet, who married a soldier two months earlier, had gone to Dr. Henry Katz, age 51, under the name Hannah Gold on October 10. Katz realized during the abortion that he had injured his patient, and called in a surgeon, who admitted Harriet to the hospital and notified the police. Her mother identified her body after her death.
 
Katz was identified as the abortionist and pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter in the Bronx County, New York court on June 4, 1943. In court Judge James M. Barrett admitted that Katz' case was one of the most difficult to come before him.


While investigating Harriet's death, the police uncovered an abortion ring involving 21 doctors who were arrested in hospitals, offices, and homes all over the city of New York. They were questioned regarding their involvement in sending patients to Katz, and released pending further action.

Harriet's abortion was typical of pre-Roe abortions in that it was performed by a physician.
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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A mysterious 19th century abortion death, and a doctor implicated in 1927

Minnie Darage, age 20, went to Dr. J.C. Berry in Chicago around the 12th of October, 1882. He confirmed her fear that she was pregnant. "She went away and was taken sick soon afterward." Berry attended to her until her death on October 17, which he attributed to septic peritonitis due to an abortion. Her family hadn't know she was pregnant and had no clue as to who the father of Minnie's baby might be. The police did not believe that Dr. Berry had perpetrated the fatal abortion.

On October 5, 1927, 31-year-old Auna Arola underwent a criminal abortion in Chicago. She died on October 17. On October 29, Dr. Vincent Tonavena was arrested. He was indicted for felony murder on November 1. Auna's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.


Abortion rights groups will blame the deaths of Minnie and Auna on the legal status of abortion at the time. These activists 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.

Chart of US maternal mortality rates in the 20th century. The rate plumets from over 800 per 100,000 live births in 1900 to fewer than 100 in 1960 -- 13 years before the Roe vs Wade abortion decision that abortion-rights groups credit with reducing maternal mortality in general, and abortion mortality in particular.
US maternal mortality rates, with Roe vs. Wade marked with vertical line.
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.

If abortion-rights groups were as concerned with women's lives as they are about the Holy Grail of "access," women could only benefit. If only half of the effort put into investigating and trying to shut down prolife pregnancy help centers were put into investigating and trying to shut down seedy abortion mills, only abortionists would suffer. Women would benefit. Whose side are they really on?

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.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Get ready now for Roe events: Tombstone signs

With the upcoming anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, life advocates are planning marches, vigils, and rallies across the country. I first saw these tombstone signs in a picture of an Operation Rescue rally in Wichita back in the 1980s. They're a powerful reminder that women are still sometimes paying the ultimate price for the belief that they and their unborn children are mortal enemies.

The signs are easy to make, and now the foam board, that used to cost more than $3 a sheet at office supply stores, is available for $1 a sheet at Dollar Tree. I made a set of 40 for March for Life in DC.

Start by printing out the names, ages, dates of death, and so forth. You can get a file from me with the information, along with links for more info for the backs. I find that twice the width of a landscape-oriented letter-sized page is about the width of the sign. I also believe you get a nicer result if you vary the fonts among the signs.

When it's time to cut the signs, you'll need something large and rounded to guide you in cutting the tops. As you can see, I used a Christmas tree stand. A trash can lid, saucer sled, or tray will do as well. Use a razor knife. I would just score the foamboard sometimes. Other times I'd stack the foam board, use a bit more force, and just slice them through. Both ways work fine -- just be careful that you don't damage your floor.

If you don't cut through the whole way on the first stroke, use the razor knife to cut through the rest of the way to get a nice rounded top. Scissors don't work well; they tend to mash the board and not give you a nice clean cut.

Cut the words for the front from the page where you've printed them. I've found that the double width of a landscape-oriented letter-sized sheet is just the right width. I can't see any real advantage in using legal sized paper, because it's not wide enough for the sign if you use a single sheet, and it's two wide if you go twice the width. Ledger sized paper would probably work well.

Spray adhesive works best. It allows you to reposition the words if you need to. The adhesive is inexpensive and available in the craft department of Wal-Mart, though if you prefer you can also get it at craft stores. Just be careful when you spray -- it tends to land on other things around the signs you're working on. Put old newspapers down if you don't want a thin sticky layer of glue on the floor.

With the spray adhesive, you have plenty of time to place the words on the sign. You can move them if you need to. I find that the razor knife works well for lifting the edges for repositioning. Just be warned -- your hands will get pretty gunky with a mix of glue and printer ink.

Print out each woman's story and put it on the back. You can also add copies of relevant documents that I link to, such as medical board disciplinary documents or news clippings. I put pictures on the front when I can get them, with additional pictures on the back when a woman's story has more than one photograph with it. This enables people to become familiar with the stories of the women, both to educate themselves and to answer questions.

Make sure you print out a copy of the list so that you can verify that you got all the signs back at the end of the event. By checking them off, you can spot any missing signs and easily replace them.

Monday, October 13, 2014

1939 and 1971 -- Equally Dead

On October 13, 1939, the body of Barbara Hanson, age 21, was found in a Houston, Texas, motel room.
James Carter and George F. Norton pleaded guilty to performing the abortion that killed Barbara, and each received a 5-7 year sentence. Barbara's boyfriend and another man pleaded guilty to accessory charges and were each sentenced to one year. I've been unable to determine anything else abortion Barbara's death or about the men responsible.

Today is also the anniversary of a safe and legal abortion death. "Tammy" is one of the women Life Dynamics identifies on their "Blackmun Wall" as having been killed by a safe and legal abortion. Tammy, age 33, traveled from Ohio to New York to undergo an abortion under New York's liberal abortion law. Her abortion was performed on September 25, 1971. After the abortion, Tammy developed an infection which finally ended her life on October 13, 1971.