Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Abortion deaths in 1923

Here I could repeat much of what I said about abortion in 1927 and abortion in 1929.

We need some perspective first. All surgery of any sort in this era was done without the aid of modern blood transfusion and antibiotics. All surgery of any sort in this era was riskier than similar surgery today. This is the era where kitchen-table surgery was phasing out in favor of hospital-based surgery. I have an obstetrical nursing textbook from this era that describes how to set up an operating table in the woman's home to perform a c-section.

Blood banks were cutting-edge battlefield medicine just a few years before, and had not yet come into common usage. Blood type compatibility was not yet understood. It wasn't until the late 1930s and early 1940s that things like separating blood products started to come into practice. Antibiotics were not manufactured and used widely until after WWII. (See chart, below)

So keep in mind that things that may seem appalling to us in the early 21st century -- such as performing surgery in one's home -- was not appalling at the time. Things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future.

Maternal mortality rates for the 20th century, according to the CDC, looked like this:



This is all pregnancy-related deaths, including legal abortions, criminal abortions, miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and all complications of pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.

There was a very precipitous drop in all maternal mortality rates from 1920 to 1950. The steepest drop started in the late 1930s. Since this drop was due to overall improvements in health and sanitation, they were probably more pronounced in childbirth. If anybody's interested I can explain that a bit more. But still, abortion mortality probably was falling during this period as well, since a healthier woman is more likely to survive an abortion than an unhealthy woman, and doctors who are washing their hands and cleaning their instruments prior to assisting in a delivery or a therapeutic D&C are also likely to do so when doing abortions.

With that established, let's look at some examples of women who died in 1923, and who did their abortions. I did not choose these cases because I thought they made a particular political point, but because they were the cases I was able to find information about.

  • Annie Allison died at the office of chiropractor Henry Lee Mottard, who practiced under the name of Dr. Henry L. Green. Mottard alleged that Annie had died after an accidental fall down an elevator shaft at the premises. However, Annie's death certificate, signed by another physician, attributed her death to chronic cardiac nephritis. Police, who were investigating Mottard for his suspected involvement in a kidnap/adoption scheme, were suspicious and had Annie exhumed. It was revealed that she had died from an abortion.

  • Madge Bowman died at Chicago's Garfield Park Hospital from an abortion performed there that day. Midwife Kate Seuer was suspected.

  • Martha Byzynski died at Chicago's St. Mary's Hospital from an abortion performed that day. The coroner named Jane Worchowski, a nurse or midwife, as the person responsible.

  • Mary Federowicz died after an abortion by a perpetrator whose profession I've been unable to determine.

  • Sophia Hartozinski died at Chicago's County Hospital due to a criminal abortion performed there that day. The coroner identified midwife Mary Roback as having been responsible for Sophia's death.

  • Emma Herod died in her home from an abortion performed there that day. Dr. Emma J. Warren was arrested for the death.

  • Alice Johnson died at Chicago's West End Hospital from a criminal abortion performed there that day. The coroner identified Dr. Lorenz Lapsky as responsible.

  • Mollie Monilson died after an abortion performed by an undetermined perpetrator.

  • Lydia Nelson died at Chicago's Englewood Hospital from an abortion performed there that day, evidently by Dr. Charles Klinetop.

  • Lauretta Schranz died after an abortion perpetrated by somebody whose profession I have been unable to determine.

  • Daisy Singerland died after an abortion performed by Dr. J.W. Lipscomb.

  • Catherine Stange died after an abortion performed by Dr. Daniel R. Lucy.

  • Mary Sudik died after an abortion performed at a small quasi-hospital run by Dr. A.B.C. Davis.

  • Agnes Wendt died after an abortion attributed to Dr. Irene Wagoner.

    Here is a breakdown of who performed the fatal abortions I've uncovered for the 1920s:



    *Doctors: 45.65%
    *Perpetrator, or perpetrator's profession, unknown: 29.71%
    *Other medical person: 20.29%
    *Self: 1.45%
    *Professional lay abortionist: 0.72%

    If we figure that the least likely to die are those who get a doctor to do their abortions, and the most likely to die those who take things into their own hands, this small sample is in keeping with the estimates of Mary Calderone and Nancy Howell Lee, that about 90% of criminal abortions were done by doctors.


    For more abortion deaths, visit the Cemetery of Choice:



    For more abortion deaths broken down by year, see this post.

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  • 3 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Christina

    I was wondering about two things:
    1. Do you think that there was as much or less pressure on women to have abortions pre legalisation?

    2. What do you think about the high levels of poverty in South American countries with huge numbers of streetchildren - I'm thinking particularly of places like Rio where the police justrounded them up and killed them . I know abortion is horrific - but in cases where mothers are not able to provide food for their children and have no power to demand sex with birth control - can it be the case of the lesser of two evils?

    Lilliput

    GrannyGrump said...

    Do you think that there was as much or less pressure on women to have abortions pre legalisation?

    I think there was less pressure -- But I have to say that studying some pre-legalization cases was an eye opener in terms of how much pressure was still brought to bear. That's something that I wish I could get prolifers to catch on to. Criminalization is a capstone in an arch, protecting women from the pressures to abort. But it isn't the entire arch by any means.

    What do you think about the high levels of poverty in South American countries with huge numbers of streetchildren - I'm thinking particularly of places like Rio where the police justrounded them up and killed them . I know abortion is horrific - but in cases where mothers are not able to provide food for their children and have no power to demand sex with birth control - can it be the case of the lesser of two evils?

    You can't use evil means to achieve good ends. Remember the saying, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." You need to address the actual evils. After all, those kids are in horrible situations not because they were born, but because they were born into a world where people are making evil choices. Condoning yet another evil choice isn't going to improve things! You fight evil with good, not with more evil.

    It's like the argument for eugenic abortions -- "Oh, those kids would just get put in terrible institutions and live a wretched life!" But it wasn't the children, after all, who had built those wretched institutions. The solution was to abolish the institutions. Is it an easy task? No, and we're far from finished. But the prospects for a child with, say, Down syndrome are much brighter than they were even a generation ago -- because enough parents insisted that they weren't going to choose between killing the child and institutionalizing him.

    When WOMEN rise up and start demanding better, THAT is when we're going to make the biggest inroads against the evils that drive women to such an act. The law can only take you so far.

    Anonymous said...

    Yes, I agree with you that women need to rise up - but its easy for us in the civilised west to say when we have had at least 4 decades of reproductive freedom/emancipation - due to the pill. Its really hard to rise up when you don't even have power over your own body. I agree with you that its a case of two wrongs don't make a right but I'm just seeing a situation where women are forced to have sex and then forced to carry the consequences. The only less patriachal societies we have are those in the West where women have full rights - including reproductive. To be honest - that last sentence actually makes me feel very sad.

    In terms of using evil for good ends - its like that saying that one man's rubbish is another's gold. The evil here - as far as I can see - is poverty, and besides some very drastic wealth distribution - which I believe is very unAmercan, the only way to reduce it is to reduce the number of children born to parents who cannot feed them. Otherwise nature will just take its course with high infant/child mortality rates.

    Lilliput