Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1900: One of two deaths attributed to Chicago doctor

On January 12, 1900, Mrs. Ida Henry, age 26, died at the home she shared with Dr. Paulina Bechtel, from complications of an abortion Bechtel had performed on her there that day. Bechtel was held by the Coroner's Jury. Ida's abortion was typical of pre-legal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

Bechtel was also implicated in the death of Barbara Shelgren shortly thereafter, but was identified as a midwife in that case. According to Leslie Reagan, author of When Abortion Was a Crime, it was common for female physicians to be misidentified as midwives, particularly if they practiced obstetrics, which was referred to as "midwifery".

Note, please, that with overall public health 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. For more about abortion and abortion deaths in the first years of the 20th century, see Abortion Deaths 1900-1909.

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

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