Monday, February 21, 2011

1929: Dying declaration implicates doctor

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.

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

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