Since the arrest of Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, prochoicers have been responding, predictably, by painting Gosnell's nightmarish house of horrors as typical of the "back alley" days before legalization -- when regulation and oversight would allegedly drive all the bad guys out of business.
Today's anniversary marks what a typical "back alley" abortion actually looked like.
In November of 1967, 19-year-old Nancy Ward, a student at the University of Oklahoma, told her boyfriend that she was pregnant and wanted an abortion. The boyfriend contacted his father in Kansas City, Missouri for help. On January 30, 1968, the boyfriend's father contacted Dr. Richard Mucie at his ear, nose, and throat clinic in Kansas City and made arrangements for the abortion.
On February 7, Nancy and her boyfriend flew from Oklahoma to Kansas City and boyfriend visited Dr. Richard Mucie at clinic. Mucie examined Nancy and told the couple that he would contact them at their hotel.
At 11 p.m., Mucie called and arranged to pick them up and drive them to his clinic. He took Nancy back for the back room while the boyfriend waited in the outer office. About 20 to 30 minutes later, Mucie returned to the front office and asked the boyfriend for money before starting the procedure. Evidence indicates that Mucie then performed a D&C abortion on Nancy.
During the abortion, Mucie made a 1/2 inch tear in Nancy's uterus. She went into shock and died at the clinic at about 9 a.m. February 8, in spite of Mucie's attempts to resucitate her. At about 11:30 a.m., Nancy's body was taken to Osteopathic hosptal. An autopsy revealed parts of a 4 1/2 to five month fetus still in Nancy's uterus. She had bled to death.
Mucie was convicted on June 8, 1968, of performing an abortion "not necessary to preserve the life" of the mother. Illegal abortion at that time carried a penalty of 3-5 years, with the sentence to be increased in cases where the mother died. Mucie served 14 months then was released on parole. Parole was set to expire on July 27, 1977. His medical license was revoked on May 4, 1971. After Roe v. Wade overturned Missouri's abortion law, Mucie successfully appealed his conviction and got his license restored under a ruling that made Roe retroactive in Missouri. He was released from probation and his record expunged of the manslaughter-abortion conviction. Ironically, Nancy's fatal abortion was retroactively declared legal on the grounds that the state's "interest in maternal health" did not allow Missouri to have prohibited Mucie from performing it. Thus was a "back alley butcher" returned to his trade.
Robert Dale Crist, who would later go on to become a National Abortion Federation member and to kill three of his own abortion patients, was one of the people who testified in Mucie's behalf to get his conviction thrown out and his license restored.
Nancy's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.
In the 1960s, we see the 20th Century downward trend in abortion mortality resumed -- until a brief upturn starting in 1968, when some states first started loosening their abortion laws. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1960s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion.