On February 10, 1957, veterinarian Ira Ledbetter performed an abortion on 38-year-old Alice Kimberly. Ledbetter used a veterinary instrument called a milk tube on Alice, causing lacerations and an embolism. A milk tube is a cannula with a bulb syringe attached, which sounds very much like the early abortion device popularized by Harvey Karman. Alice quickly died of her injuries, leaving her husband with five minor children to raise alone.
had picked Alice up at her home about 1:00 p.m. on February 10, and
drove around with her for about two hours, "making intermittent stops,"
before driving up to a mortuary in Coldwater and announcing that he'd
found a dead woman lying by the side of the road and had her body in his
car. Agnes Swarmer, the mortuary attendant, contacted the Dr. McCoy,
the county coroner, who summoned the sheriff.
body was slumped over in the front seat of Ledbetter's car. Upon taking
her temperature, McCoy estimated that Alice had been dead for about an
hour.There appeared to be fresh blood on the front seat and on the right
front and back doors and windows. Lying on Ledbetter's coat on the back
seat was the milk tube, which he said he'd used on a cow several days
earlier. Just in front of the rear seat was a broken jug of ice.
autopsy, McCoy found a lot of frothy blood in the pulmonary arteries,
clear evidence of a massive air embolism. Death, he concluded, would
have been almost instantaneous. Alice had been about ten to twelve weeks
pregnant, with the placenta torn lose. McCoy concluded that somebody
with enough skill not to have injured Alice's cervix -- and thus not
Alice herself -- had used the milk tube to put air between the placenta
and the uterine wall, causing the fatal embolism.
tests found that the blood was Alice's blood type, A, and was on the
inside tip of the milk tube, on Alice's slip, on Ledbetter's trousers,
and on the interior of the car.
age 65, appealed his conviction. He was offered release on $10,000 bond
pending appeal after being convicted of first-degree manslaughter in
Alice's death, but the court upheld his conviction.
Alice's abortion was unusual in that it was not preformed by a physician, as was by far the most typical scenario. Still, it was performed by somebody with medical training, which was unusual but still more common than amateur or self-induced abortions.
the 1950s, we see an anomaly: Though maternal mortality had been
falling during the first half of the 20th Century, and abortion
mortality in particular had been plummeting, the downward trend slowed,
then reversed itself briefly. I have yet to figure out why. For more,
see Abortion Deaths in the 1950's.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion