Monday, April 19, 2010

1933: Fatal abortion

In February of 1933, a 22-year-old unmarried store clerk discovered that she was pregnant. I've been unable to determine her name, so I'll call her "Nina" Roe.

Nina informed her boyfriend of the pregnancy, and he got her some pills supposed to cause an abortion, but they didn't work. In March, the boyfriend got a drug called duray. Nina took some in March and the rest on April 3 or 4, but this still didn't produce the desired abortion.

Nina's co-workers and friends didn't know that she was pregnant, and they later testified that she'd been in good health except for a headache and indigestion some time between April 7 and 10.

On April 8, Nina went to a nursing home operated by a nurse to ask about an abortion. The nurse informed the woman and her lover that Dr. E. T. Martin or another doctor would be able to perform an abortion.

On April 11, Nina's boyfriend went to Dr. Martin's office and consulted with him. On Dr. Martin's instructions, Nina's boyfriend brought her back the next morning, a Wednseday, for an examination. Nina was in Dr. Martin's office for about half an hour.

Dr. Martin then told Nina's boyfriend that the total fee, including a stay at the nursing home until Saturday night, would be $75. He then instructed the boyfriend to take Nina to the nursing home, which he did that afternoon.

On Friday the 14th, Dr. Martin performed a curettage on Nina to remove the fetus. The nurse claimed that she had no idea what Dr. Martin was planning to do. She testified, "I understood he was going to use a hot antiseptic wash. I didn't understand he was going to remove the fetus of a child. I would not have permitted Dr. Martin to remove the fetus of a child without calling in another physician to certify or find the necessity of it. Dr. Martin did not tell me what he was doing. If I knew that the girl had been pregnant and there was a fetus in the uterus, and there was to have been a curettement, I would have insisted on calling another doctor before I allowed a curettement to be done in my place."

After the D&C, Nina became alarmingly ill. Dr. Martin said that he himself was not in proper physical condition to care for the patient, so he summoned a Dr. Templeton.

Dr. Templeton evidently cared for Nina at the nursing home until April 19, a Wednesday, when he advised staff to transfer Nina to Virginia Mason hospital. She died the following morning.

It was alleged that Dr. Martin and the nurse told Nina's boyfriend to say that Nina had been suffering from cramps, had fallen, and had begun to hemorrhage.

Dr. Martin, with some corroboration from the nurse, said that Nina already had a rapid pulse and fever when she first consulted with him. He also said that she was bleeding vaginally already. Dr. Martin said that Nina had told him she'd missed three periods, taken abortifacients, had fallen, and had a chronic bowel condition.

Dr. Martin testified that he'd recommended hospitalization, but that Nina wanted to avoid the possible publicity surrounding a hospitalization. It was then that he'd decided to send her to the nursing home instead.

He also testified that she'd been bleeding from the 12th until the 14th, when he'd performed a curretage. He said that this curretage was necessary to treat her fever and bleeding.

Dr. Martin was convicted of manslaughter in Nina's death, but the nurse was acquitted.

Nina's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

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

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