Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illegal anniversary: Two doctors, one dead patient

On February 21, 1929, Virginia Clark died of complications of a botched, illegal abortion. G. W. Wilbanks and W. A. N. Jones were charged with murder in her death. Wilbanks was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and the following information comes from the Westlaw commentary on his appeal.

Virginia was treated prior to her death by a Dr. McArthur, who testified as to her dying declaration. He said that Virginia told him that when she learned that she was pregnant, she told the man responsible that "something would have to done about it." He made arrangements for an abortion to be performed by a doctor. The paramor brought the doctor to Virginia, and he used medicine and instruments on her. The procedure was so painful that Virginia asked him to stop, so the doctor administered chloroform. According to Dr. McArthur, Virginia told him that this abortion "was what had butchered her up and was killing her."

Virginia didn't tell her mother, Mrs. Goodwyne, about the abortion. Mrs. Goodwyne testified, "She (Virginia Clark) said that she went to the theatre or something, and it seemed like there was something broke, and she said she thought she wouldn't be able to get back to the hotel, but she did."

Wilbanks tried to get his conviction overturned on the grounds of the difference between what Virginia told her mother, and what she told Dr. McArthur as she lay dying.

Virginia's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician. (And I might take a moment to point out to OC that the same day Virginia died, scads of perfectly safe criminal abortions were performed by competent physicians on other women. I might wonder why OC and other abortion enthusiasts consider Virginia's death to be proof of a need to change the law, while these women's deaths are shrugged off as flukes. It seems the legal status of the abortion is more important to them than whether or not the woman actually survives it.)

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

To email this post to a friend, use the icon below.

No comments: