Thursday, September 13, 2012

Abortion Deaths from the 18th Century to the 20th

In one of the three Pomfret, Connecticut, colonial-era cemeteries leans a headstone reading, "Here Lyes Ye Body of M. Sarah Grosvenor, Daug. of Licester Grosvenor Esq. & M.Mary his Wife: Who Died Sep. 14th 1742 In Ye 20th Year of Her Life." The events that led to Sarah's death began in mid to late May, when she told her lover, Amasa Sessions, that she was pregnant. Amasa was the son of Lieutenant Nathaniel Sessions, who ran a tavern out of his house at a major crossroads about a mile from the village. He was a member of town committees, and many town meetings were held at his tavern. Amasa himself, a nephew recalled, was "a very strong man" in his prime. Sarah had evidently been attracted to Amasa's strength. But when she turned to him in her trouble, he showed a weaker side, refusing to marry her and instead pushing her into the abortion that took her life as well as the life of her unborn child. Click on her name to read her story.

On September 14, 1925, 19-year-old Elizabeth Welter, who worked as a clerk, died in the Chicago office of Dr. Lucy Hagenow from complications of an abortion performed that day. Lawrence Vail or Vaily was identified by the coroner as responsible for the pregnancy, and the coroner recommended his arrest. Though the coroner also recommended the arrest of Dr. Hagenow. However, because Vail refused to give a statement, police were unable to gather enough evidence to arrest her. Other Chicago abortion deaths attributed to Dr. Lucy Hagenow, aka Dr. Louise Hagenow, aka Dr. Ida Von Schultz, include: 1899: Marie Hecht; 1906: Lola Madison; 1907: Annie Horvatich; 1925: Lottie Lowy, Nina H. Pierce, Jean Cohen, Bridget Masterson, and Elizabeth Welter; 1926: Mary Moorehead.
On September 14, 1928, 20-year-old Stella Wallenberg, a bindery worker, died from a criminal abortion performed in Chicago. Loretta Rybicki, identified as a "massaguer", was held by the coroner for murder by abortion. Dr. Nicholas Kalinowski was held as an accessory. Rybicki was indicted for felony murder on November 15. Stella was the daughter of Polish immigrants Andrew and Josephine (Bozek) Mateja, and the wife of Leo Wallenberg. Stella's abortion was unusual in that it was performed by an amateur, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

Rhonda Rollinson underwent a safe, legal abortion by Dr. Jay I. Levin at Malcom Polis's Philadelphia Women's Center September 3, 1992. The abortion attempt was unsuccessful. Rhonda was then sent home, with instructions to return on September 12 to try again. Rhonda experienced such severe pain, dizziness, fever, and discharge that on September 10 she sought emergency care at a hospital. She was suffering "severe non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema consistent with adult respiratory distress syndrome." Doctors did a laparoscopy, dilation and evacuation, abdominal hysterectomy, and splenectomy, to no avail. Rhonda died on September 14. The autopsy revealed a perforation from her vagina into the uterine cavity, sepsis, disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (a clotting disorder), non-bacterial thrombotic endocarditis, pulmonary infarctions, and dysplastic kidney. The suit filed by Rhonda's survivors also charged the facility and Polis with hiring Levin despite his lack of competence, failure to properly supervise his work, violation of applicable laws and regulations, lack of informed consent, failure to give proper post-operative instructions, and failure "to respond to the requests of [Rhonda] and her family for post-operative medical advice."

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