Maternal mortality rates were highest in this century during 1900-1930. Poor obstetric education and delivery practices were mainly responsible for the high numbers of maternal deaths, most of which were preventable. Obstetrics as a speciality was shunned by many physicians, and obstetric care was provided by poorly trained or untrained medical practitioners. Most births occurred at home with the assistance of midwives or general practitioners. Inappropriate and excessive surgical and obstetric interventions (e.g., induction of labor, use of forceps, episiotomy, and cesarean deliveries) were common and increased during the 1920s. Deliveries, including some surgical interventions, were performed without following the principles of asepsis. As a result, 40% of maternal deaths were caused by sepsis (half following delivery and half associated with illegally induced abortion) with the remaining deaths primarily attributed to hemorrhage and toxemia.
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.
Maternal mortality rates for the 20th century, according to the CDC, looked like this:
This is all maternal deaths, from abortion, miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, complications of childbirth, and so forth. You can see that the 20th Century got off to a good start, improving maternal health, but that trend would later level off, and then reverse itself temporarily, before taking the downward trend that would continue for the rest of the century.
Note also the total lack of even the faintest blip on the trends with the legalization of abortion in the beginning of the 1970s.
With that established, let's look at the sample of cases I've been unable to uncover during the second decade of the 20th Century. Please note that these cases are chosen purely because I could find information about them, and not because I thought a particular woman's story made a particular political point. I found these cases by searching Westlaw, online historic newspaper archives, and the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database. My criminal abortion samples also include cases I stumbled across in my other reading. Unlike the people at the Centers for Disease Control's abortion surveillance, I don't need to get beaten over the head with an abortion death case to notice it. I actually stay alert and notice without anybody belaboring the point. And it's not even my job to be paying attention. Unlike the stellar professionals at the CDC, I'm doing this on my own time and my own dime.
- 1910: Eva Swan died after an abortion by "Dr. Grant", who then had an assistant help him bury her body in his cellar. "Dr. Grant" turnd out to really be Dr. Robert Thompson.
- June 25, 1911: Anna Mueller died after an abortion performed by Dr. George Lotz.
- 1913: Emma Chandler died after an abortion performed by Dr. J.A. Richmond.
- October 23, 1913: Emily Nohavec died after an abortion performed by midwife Emma Bickel.
- April 26, 1914: Florence Lindquist died after an abortion performed in the home of Dr. Arthur Schulz.
- October 1, 1914: Lillie Giovenco died after an abortion performed by professional abortionist Dr. Eva Shaver.
- May 26, 1915: Anna Johnson died after an abortion performed by Dr. Eva Shaver in her home. Shaver then shot the dead woman in the head to try to make the death look like a suicide.
- Ocotber 15, 1915: Anna Anderson died after an abortion performed by Dr. A. A. Ausplund in his office, despite the assistance he'd sought from two other doctors after Anna started to hemorrhage.
- February 20, 1916: Bertha Carlson died from an abortion performed at an unknown perpetrator at an unknown location.
- February 25, 1916: Alda Christopherson died after an abortion performed by Dr. Lillian Hobbs at her Chicago practice.
- July 21, 1916: Elizabeth Radcliffe died after an abortion by an undetermined perpetrator.
- September, 1916: Etta Gardener died after an abortion by an undetermined perpetrator.
- 1917: Ada Williams died after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Noble O. Hamilton.
- April 30, 1917: Ruth Lemaire implicated Dr. Lillian Hobbs on her deathbed.
- August, 1917: Elise Stone died after an abortion by Dr. A. H. Yates.
- August 9, 1917: Mary Park died after an abortion performed by Dr. Nicholas J. Phelan.
- October 10, 1917: Katherine Cross died after an abortion performed by Dr. A. H. Yates.
- December 3, 1917: Grace Wolf died after an abortion perpetrated in the office of Dr. C. Allen Snyder.
- November 18, 1917: Ellen Matson died after an abortion performed by Dr. Lillian Hobbs.
- November, 1918: Mary Lareau died amid a flu epidemic that knocked her death to the back pages. Two women whose professions were not given were arrested in Mary's death.
- 1919: Inez Reed died after an abortion by unidentified perpetrators, who then tossed her body off a cliff to cover up their crime.
- February 20, 1919: Viola Parr died after an abortion blamed on W. G. Waters and M. T. Summerlin, whose professions were not given.
And here is a breakdown of who performed these fatal abortions:
This is the breakdown of cases in which I was able to determine the profession of the perpetrator:
I realize that these numbers will be skewed by the small size of my sample, however they do support the findings of other researchers that pre-legalization abortions were mostly the work of physicians.
For more about abortion deaths in specific years, see this post.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
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