On Saturday, December 8, 1956, 26-year-old Mary Davies of New York City arrived in the Ashland, Pennsylvania office of abortionist Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer. She was seeking an abortion.
As a physician, Spencer was typical of criminal abortionists.
What was unusual about him was that rather than sneak the woman in
through the back alley, Spencer plied his abortion trade openly.
According to Spencer, Mary was alone, and reported that she'd been
bleeding for about two weeks. He didn't examine her, but gave her
medication for pain and Ergotrate to stop the bleeding. He told her to return the following day for her abortion.
Mary returned at about 10 AM on the 9th. He administered 13 ccs. of Evipal
in a 10% solution to induce anesthesia. "I injected that solution into
the vein of the left arm and in ten seconds she was asleep." Spencer
said that the next thing he noticed was that Mary wasn't breathing. She
also appeared blue. He injected five ccc. of "Metrozol"*
into her left leg. She didn't respond, so he gave her an additional
five ccs. of "Metrozol", this time injecting the drug into a vein. Mary
still did not respond, so Spencer attempted to resuscitate her with
oxygen. He called his assistant, Mildred Zettlemoyer, into the room to
assist him. With Mary in Zettlemoyer's care, Spencer went to another
part of the building to retrieve adrenaline. He gave Mary three
injections of adrenaline.
Mary still was not responding, so Spencer had Zettlemoyer call the
laboratory assistant, Steve Sekunda, and tell him to come to the office.
Spencer put a breathing tube into Mary's throat, but had to work blind
because the light on his scope wasn't working. He resumed artificial
respiration, "and pulled on her tongue, but got no response." By the
time Sekunda arrived, at around 11:30, Spencer had concluded that Mary
was dead. The puzzled man concluded "that this patient died in my office
from some heart disease."
Dr. Milton Helpern, chief medical examiner for New York City, was among
the experts that testified in Spencer's trial for Mary's death. Helpern
concluded that Mary had been pregnant, that the pregnancy had been
terminated right before her death, and that she'd died from
administration of a drug used for anesthesia for performing a D&C.
Mary had been in good health prior to her death.
Patricia G. Miller, author of The Worst Of Times, asked another
doctor, "Dr. Bert," who had practiced before legalization, to review
news reports of Mary's death and speculate as to whether Mary would have
died had abortion been legal.
"Dr. Bert" faulted Spencer for not having an assistant while he was
administering general anesthesia. "In my view, to give a general
anesthetic alone is below good medical care, even in those days." He
speculated that Spencer had not had an assistant working with him due to
the law against abortion -- an odd speculation, since Spencer was doing
abortions quite openly, with at least one member of his staff present
in the building. It's also an odd speculation considering how many legal
abortionists have had patients die from anesthesia complications, either due to inadequate supervision of the anesthesia process or inadequate resuscitation efforts.
Spencer's widow, Eleanor, told Patricia Miller that her husband had been
quite stricken by Mary Davies' death. He continued to perform
abortions, however, along with his regular medical practice, up until
the trial. He was acquitted on all counts, likely because it was
impossible to prove that Mary hadn't either miscarried during those two
weeks of bleeding prior to her appointment with Spencer, or been aborted
by somebody else. No mention is made of any fetal remains being found
in Mary's body or in Spencer's office.
Spencer briefly stopped doing abortions after the trial, "for a month or
so," his widow said. But he resumed his business and eventually got
entangled with a fellow named Harry Mace who set up a business for
himself rounding up abortion patients and bringing them to Spencer.
Spencer's widow lamented that Mace flooded Spencer with patients,
pressuring him to rush through abortions. Spencer's health began to
fail. He was arrested again, due to the attention from Mace's
activities, but died before the case went to trial.
Mary Davies is the only woman known to have died from abortion related
complications under Spencer's care. Spencer is estimated to have
performed between 40,000 and 100,000 abortions.