I have a collection of fairly gruesome stories here.
Former employees of Dr. Sidney C. Laughlin alleged that he performed illegal late-term abortions in a bedroom of his home, across the street from an elementary school. Upon investigating the allegation, police found a dismembered 16-week fetus in his trash. The autopsy on the fetus noted right and left arm dismembered at the shoulder, organs, legs and feet, and macerated and opened head containing fragments of brain tissue. The medical examiner also noted other embryonic tissues, blood-stained pads, rubber gloves, and an empty syringe in the bags collected by the police. A nurse who claimed to have assisted in 4 or 5 abortions in his home said Laughlin sterilized abortion instruments in his dishwasher. The nurse said she quit assisting in these abortions after she observed Laughlin aborting a 28-week old fetus, 4 weeks past the 24-week legal limit. She also said Laughlin owed her $3000 in back wages. Equipment found in Laughlin's home included suction machine, medications, and an exam table. One former employee also allegedly said she is now embarrassed to have worked for Laughlin, and that "He laughed about dismembering babies." Laughlin denied disposing of the fetus, saying "I've always disposed of them through a medical [waste company]." Laughlin also denied that it would be improper or illegal to perform abortions in the doctor's home. Because a law restricting 2nd-trimester abortions to hospitals had been found unconstitutional by the state attorney general in 1984, Laughlin said that no law would prevent abortions from being done in a home.
(The Sunday Oklahoman 7-5-92)
Patient "Amanda" said that she had an abortion performed by Milan Vuitch at his Laurel Clinic on January 8, 1981. During the abortion, Vuitch lacerated Amanda's uterine wall. Vuitch kept Andrea overnight, in violation of clinic licensing statute. He subsequently moved her to his home, designated as the "Clinic Annex," and cared for his injured patient there. He then returned her to clinic January 10, and discharged her. On January 11, in severe pain, Amanda was taken to the hospital by relatives and admitted. There, exploratory surgery discovered an unsutured laceration leaving a hole from her vagina into her abdominal cavity, and "significant pelvic and intestinal peritonitis." Amanda had to have a total hysterectomy. Surgeons "also removed a mass of dead tissue from the abdomen, which laboratory analysis revealed was fetal tissue." Vuitch used the company car to transport patients from clinic to the "Annex," "which is not licensed in Maryland to treat patients," and testified to transporting as many as three patients to the "Annex" for overnight stays.
Vuitch also testified to lacking hospital privileges since 1963. Vuitch's wife was also held accountable as an officer of the corporation, knowledgeable of Vuitch's practice of keeping patients in home overnight. (DC Court of Appeals 82-1077)
Although Vuitch managed to keep his nose clean when he ws doing criminal abortions, his practice deteriorated after Roe. Sloppy practices by Vuitch resulted in two deaths that I know of: Wilma Harris and Georgianna "Jeannie" English.
Dr. Joe Bills Reynolds was a jack of all trades, doing a variety of elective surgeries, including abortions, in his filthy clinic. He allegedly performed breast implants, a hysterectomy, and numerous liposuction procedures on his wife. Reynolds' anesthetist, age 60, had originally been hired as a janitor, and an untrained orderly was acting as his nurse. The operating room was littered with dirty cups and papers. Reynolds tried to collect $500,000 on his wife's life insurance after she bled to death after he opened 25-inch incision, ostensibly for liposuction, on September 7, 1989. Reynolds reportedly would not allow paramedics to aid her until he had finished stapling the incision. He told his wife's father that she was assisting in surgery and "fell dead." Reynolds was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter. He voluntarily surrendered his Oklahoma license. Reynolds allegedly had two suits filed over liposuction malpractice, including the near death of his housekeeper Betty Adams August 11, 1989, due to perforated intestines. (The Daily Oklahoman 4-22-91)
Blue Coral Medical Center was temporarily shut down under an emergency order describing "deplorable conditions," including:
An inspector was quoted as saying, "When we got there, there wasn't any soap in the place, so our inspectors had to go next door to wash their hands." Blue Coral's owner, Nabil Ghali, had already had his medical license revoked in Florida and Kentucky due to a conviction for having sex with his 14-year-old goddaughter. Blue Coral was re-opened under stipulations. (Miami Herald 9-28-89, 1-4-90)
Ghali also worked at Miami's notorious Dadeland abortion mill, where his quackery contributed to the death of abortion patient Ellen Williams.
Ladies First Medical Center was temporarily closed by the board of health in 1989 "after finding dead cockroaches in a sterilizing room, unsanitary surgical gloves, expired drugs and bloody equipment." Inspectors also noted:
The Health Secretary described Ladies First as "just filthy, the worst I've seen." One of the inspectors told a reporter, "I spent years inspecting clinics in prisons all through Florida. And we wouldn't have waited a minute to close a prison clinic long before it ever looked this bad. I couldn't believe how bad this place was." A reporter allegedly called Ladies First and spoke with cleaning woman who said "I think the charges are really exaggerated. We did the best we can. It's not really that bad, the way they say it." Ladies First was re-opened under stipulations. (Miami Herald 10-2-89, 1-4-90)
A lot of criminal abortionists just put out their shingle out front with legalization. I wrote about what happens when "back-alley butcher" go legit.
Legalizing abortion was supposed to make it safer for women by taking it out of the hands of "back-alley butchers" and opening the trade to legitimate physicians. Of course, this theory failed to take into account the fact that most pre-legalization abortions were done by doctors.
In fact, the whole term, "back-alley abortion" referred not to the location where the abortion was done, but where the woman entered the doctor's office. She went in through the back alley rather than through the front door. It is silly to suppose that all those criminal abortionists would somehow lose interest after legalization. Their reasons for doing criminal abortions -- concern for women, greed, the inability to practice any legitimate field of medicine, whatever -- would not vanish with legalization. Legalization could not be expected to change whether these characters would do abortions. Of course they still would. What legalization would change was how they did abortions.
In 1959, Planned Parenthood abortion advocate Alan Guttmacher wrote of criminal abortionists, "They have to be good to stay in business, since otherwise they would be extremely vulnerable to police action." What would happen to the quality of care if the vulnerability was no longer there?
In 1959, we would have had to guess what would happen if the threat of police action suddenly vanished. Today, we do not have to guess. We have tried the experiment. Let's look at the results.
One of the first criminal abortionists to flee the oppression of police supervision was Jesse Ketchum of Michigan. Although Ketchum's criminal abortion practice wasn't the best in the world, he evidently maintained some standards and protocols for screening patients. No patient deaths have been attributed to Ketchum's criminal practice.
When New York legalized abortion on demand in 1970, Ketchum set up shop in a Buffalo motel suite. For Ketchum, New York must have seemed like the Promised Land. Abortionists were flaunting safety standards with impunity. Practices such as injecting patients with saline then sending them home to abort raised eyebrows, to be sure, but they didn't get anybody thrown in jail. Ketchum, who had managed to keep his nose clean as a criminal abortionist, found a way to call attention to himself as a legitimate abortionist.
Ketchum had decided to do hysterotomy abortions in his office. It didn't take long for this practice to turn deadly. In the second half of 1971, Ketchum caught the eyes of the authorities by allowing two hysterotomy patients -- Margaret Smith and Carole Schaner -- to bleed to death.
For more, see:
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
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