Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Gruesome Pre-Roe Tale, and a Routine Post-Roe Death

Barbara Lofrumento
Like the Jacqueline Smith case in the previous decade, the strange events surrounding the death of 19-year-old Barbara Lofrumento have become almost an urban legend. But the tale of Barbara's tragic death and its aftermath is all too true.

Barbara, a 19-year-old college student, informed her parents that she was pregnant. Mr. and Mrs. Lofrumento cast about for a reputable abortionist and were referred by an acquaintance to Dr. Harvey Lothringer. Lothringer, a Princeton graduate, examined Barbara on June 2, 1962, and assured the parents that although Barbara's pregnancy was 5 months advanced, there was no danger. He arranged to pick up Barbara and her mother, Rose, and took them to his office, which was in his home in a wealthy section of Queens.

This was typical of the "back alley abortion" -- a reputable physician would make sneaky arrangements to do abortions at the site of their legitimate practices, taking the woman in "through the back alley" rather than the front door. In fact, by far the bulk of criminal abortion were performed by doctors.

They arrived just after 3 AM on the 3rd. While Mrs. Lofrumento waited, Lothringer sent Barbara into a room where she removed her underwear and reported feeling unwell from the injection Lothringer had given her. Lothringer then took Barbara into his office and left Mrs. Lofrumento in his waiting room. At about 5 AM, Lothringer told Mrs. Lofrumento that Barbara was all right, but that she needed some oxygen. Sources disagree as to what happened next. Milton Helpern says that at 7 AM, Lothringer told Rose that Barbara was resting quietly, and that she should go home and get some rest. The New York Times says that Lothringer told Rose that he was going to hospitalize Barbara for a minor complication. Both sources indicated that Lothringer instructed Rose to return later to get her daughter.

Lothringer sent Mrs. Lofrumento to Grand Central Station, where he had arranged for her husband to pick her up and take her home. Instead, the couple went straight to Lothringer's home, where they found no sign of Lothringer or their daughter. They went home and repeatedly called Lothringer, getting no answer.
The next morning they returned to Lothringer's home, where they found several patients waiting outside. No one had seen Lothringer. Mr. Lofrumento waited for several hours, then went home, and contacted the police to report Barbara missing.

Later that day, Lothringer called a policeman who was a friend of his, telling him that he was away on business and asking him to call Roto-Rooter about the stopped-up toilet and to let them into the house.
Investigating the main house drain, the worker found the source of the problem -- pieces of bone and flesh. Somebody called the police, and an investigator took the tissue to be examined. Soon the authorities had workers digging up the sewer lines from Lothringer's house. They found pieces of Barbara, her clothing, and her baby. 
Lothringer, who had already been under surveillance for suspected abortion activities, appeared to have fled the country, accompanied by a Cuban-born former stewardess who was serving as his receptionist. Lothringer was well-to-do, with reports circulating that he kept as much as a million dollars cash in safe deposti boxes. An international manhunt was launched, with Lothringer first being traced to the area of his family's hunting lodge about 60 miles from Montreal. Eventually he was extradited from Andorra.

Lothringer told police that Barbara had developed an air embolism. He plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter in Barbara's death and was sentenced to 2 to 8 years.

Jumping ahead to the safe and legal era.

Sandra Lynn Chmiel was a pretty young mother of four when she went to Biogenetics Ltd. in Chicago for a safe and legal abortion on June 3, 1975.  Even though 35-year-old Sandra was more than 12 weeks pregnant, the Biogenetics doctor chose to ignore the Illinois law that required abortions after 12 weeks to be performed in hospitals. Within hours of her abortion, Sandra had bled to death from a punctured uterus. Biogenetics (which had been the target of at least 30 malpractice suits) claimed that their doctor was only repairing damage Sandra had done to herself in an attempted self-induced abortion. However, Biogenetics settled the case with Sandra's survivors for $75,000. Brenda Benton and Synthia Dennard also died after abortions at Biogenetics. Biogenetics's owner Kenneth Yellin was gunned down outside his facility in an apparent gangland slaying in 1979.

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