Friday, December 26, 2008

Abortion deaths in 1928

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 1928, 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.

  • Julia Agoston died of a botched abortion; two physicians, Dr. Anton Feher and Dr. Helen Moskowitz, were arrested as principals, with other involved parties arrested as accessories to the crime.

  • Margaret Barnts died from an abortion performed by somebody whose name I've been unable to verify and whose profession I've been unable to determine.

  • Anna Borndal died at the office of Dr. Lou E. Davis of Chicago, from complications of an abortion performed there that day.

  • Rose Hannover died at the office of Dr. Lester I. Ofner from complications of an abortion performed there that day.

  • Mildred Jacobsen took ill at work and died from what turned out to be a botched abortion performed at an unknown location by an unidentified perpetrator.

  • Bessie Kouns implicated Dr. H.C. Dorroh in her deathbed statement.

  • Stefania Kwit died from complications of a criminal abortion performed that day by midwife Pauline Majerczyk.

  • Catherine Mau died from complications of an abortion performed by Chicago midwife Anna Heisler.

  • Eunice McElroy died after an abortion performed by Dr. Thomas J. Ney.

  • Anna Mae Smith died from an abortion performed at the Chicago office of Dr. George F. Slater.

  • Lucille Smith died at Chicago's Burrows Hospital from complications of an abortion performed that day at the office of midwife Emma Schulz.

  • Maud Thurmond died after an abortion performed by an unidentified perpetrator.

  • Esther Wahlstrom died from an abortion performed by Dr. Lou E. Davis.

  • Stella Wallenberg died after an abortion performed by Loretta Rybicki, identified as a "massaguer", with Dr. Nicholas Kalinowski as an accessory.

  • Martha Washington died after an abortion performed by an unknown perpetrator.

    In deference to SoMG, who isn't content that I like to let my readers draw their own conclusions:

    Mostly I'm wondering right now why the information from the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database is so sketchy. Is it that so little was know about who killed these women, or is it that so little of the information made it into the database?

    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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