On Saturday, December 8, 1956, 26-year-old Mary Davies of New York City arrived in the Ashland, Pennsylvania office of abortionist Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer. She was seeking an abortion. According to Spencer, Mary was alone, and reported that she'd been bleeding for about two weeks. He didn't examine her, but gave her medication for pain and ergotrate to stop the bleeding. He told her to return the following day for her abortion.
Mary returned at about 10 AM on the 9th. He administered a solution to induce anesthesia. "I injected that solution into the vein of the left arm and in ten seconds she was asleep." Spencer said that the next thing he noticed was that Mary wasn't breathing. She also appeared blue. He injected some medication into her left leg. She didn't respond, so he gave her an additional five cc's, this time injecting the drug into a vein.
Mary still did not respond, so Spencer attempted to resuscitate her with oxygen. He called his assistant, Mildred Zettlemoyer, into the room to assist him. With Mary in Zettlemoyer's care, Spencer went to another part of the building to retrieve adrenaline. He gave Mary three injections of adrenaline
Mary still was not responding, so Spencer had Zettlemoyer call the laboratory assistant, Steve Sekunda, and tell him to come to the office. Spencer put a breathing tube into Mary's throat, but had to work blind because the light on his scope wasn't working. He resumed artificial respiration, "and pulled on her tongue, but got no response." By the time Sekunda arrived, at around 11:30, Spencer had concluded that Mary was dead. The puzzled man concluded "that this patient died in my office from some heart disease."
Dr. Milton Helpern, chief medical examiner for New York City, was among the experts that testified in Spencer's trial for Mary's death. Helpern concluded that Mary had been pregnant, that the pregnancy had been terminated right before her death, and that she'd died from administration of a drug used for anesthesia for performing a D&C. Mary had been in good health prior to her death.
Patricia G. Miller, author of The Worst Of Times, asked another doctor, "Dr. Bert," who had practiced before legalization, to review news reports of Mary's death and speculate as to whether Mary would have died had abortion been legal.
"Dr. Bert" faulted Spencer for not having an assistant while he was administering general anesthesia. "In my view, to give a general anesthetic alone is below good medical care, even in those days." He speculated that Spencer had not had an assistant working with him due to the law against abortion -- an odd speculation, since Spencer was doing abortions quite openly, with at least one member of his staff present in the building. It's also an odd speculation considering how many legal abortionists have had patients die from anesthesia complications, either due to inadequate supervision of the anesthesia process or inadequate resuscitation efforts.
The staff of CRASH, for example, diddled around for nearly an hour before seeking emergency care for patient K.B. Investigators learned that CRASH "did not employ proper monitoring equipment or procedures," "had no working EKG machine," and didn't have a cardiac defibrillator. They noted that no one on staff was qualified to perform CPR. No one on staff was qualified to administer anesthesia, and they did not use proper procedures or equipment. Anesthesia was administered "by eye," with no means of accurately measuring the dose. Dosage was estimated to be twice that recommended in the procedure manual.
Catherine Pierce went into cardiac arrest while left unattended in recovery after her abortion. State officials alleged "serious problems" after Peirce was injured. They cited this National Abortion Federation facility for administering "the same anesthesia dosages" to patients whose weights ranges from 107 to 167 pounds, inadequate record keeping, and inadequate supervision of patients.
Eastern Women's Center allowed three women to die of anesthesia complications: Dawn Mack, Dawn Ravenelle, and Venus Ortiz. Inspectors, and the families of the dead patients (I hesitate to say "women" because Dawn Ravenelle was only 13 years old.) found numerous faults with the facility, which was unable to locate its medical director during inspections.
Another National Abortion Federation member facility gave 13-year-old Deanna Bell a massive, fatal dose of Brevitol during her abortion.
Deborah Lozinski languished in a coma after abortion clinic staff failed to properly monitor their her vital signs during the abortion, and failed to quickly detect and properly treat respiratory difficulty. Deborah died without ever regaining consciousness.
60 Minutes did an expose on a Maryland abortion clinic that fatally injured two abortion patients, Debra Gray and Suzanne Logan. There was no anesthesiologisst on duty, and no physician supervising the administration of anesthesia medication.
Diane Watson went into cardiac arrest due to a reaction to anesthesia during her abortion at Hedd Surgi-Center in Chicago. None of the four physicians present performed CPR to revive her.
Donna Heim told the staff at Her Medical Clinic that she had asthma, but a nurse administered general anesthesia anyway. Donna started to have difficulty breathing, but Mahlon Cannon continued with the procedure for five more minutes before helping the nurse anesthetist to try to restore Donna’s breathing. Donna wasn't the only woman to die due to staff neglect at Her Medical Clinic. Liliana Cortez was another asthma patient; she went into cardiac arrest after her abortion. Michelle Thames died after going into a seizure during an abortion. Maria Soto died there after being injected with drugs and left unattended.
Prochoice icon Milan Vuitch had a clean record as a criminal abortionist, but after legalization he allowed two patient to die of anesthesia complications. After the death of Georgianna English, inspectors also noted repeated violations of medical standards regarding sanitation and anesthesia. Vuitch and his staff had allowed 17-year-old Wilma Harris to lapse into a coma and lie unattended for 12 hours before transferring her to the hospital.
Jacqueline Reynolds was not given adequate oxygen during her abortion at Grady Memorial Hospital. She lapsed into a coma from which she never recovered.
These are just a few of the women who died of anesthesia complications.
Spencer's widow, Eleanor, told Patricia Miller that her husband had been quite stricken by Mary Davies' death. He continued to perform abortions, however, along with his regular medical practice, up until the trial. He was acquitted on all counts, likely because it was impossible to prove that Mary hadn't either miscarried during those two weeks of bleeding prior to her appointment with Spencer, or been aborted by somebody else. No mention is made of any fetal remains being found in Mary's body or in Spencer's office.
Spencer briefly stopped doing abortions after the trial, "for a month or so," his widow said. But he resumed his business and eventually got entangled with a fellow named Harry Mace who set up a business for himself rounding up abortion patients and bringing them to Spencer. Spencer's widow lamented that Mace flooded Spencer with patients, pressuring him to rush through abortions. Spencer's health began to fail. He was arrested again, due to the attention from Mace's activities, but died before the case went to trial.
Mary Davies is the only woman known to have died from abortion related complications under Spencer's care. Spencer is estimated to have performed between 40,000 and 100,000 abortions.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
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