On February 8, 1919, Ruth Fragale, a 20-year-old clerk, died at her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Clesta M. Cochran, and her sister, Delorous F. Mischler, said that Ruth had taken ill on Sunday. Because Ruth had gotten much sicker, Clesta sent for Dr. Thomas C. VanHorne on February 4. He was caring for her, with her mother and her sister by her side, when she told him that she'd used instruments on herself to try to cause an abortion on February 1 and 2 after an attempt about two weeks earlier had failed. VanHorne continued to attend to Ruth daily until peritonitis finally killed her, leaving her husband, Frank, widowed.
Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not
using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions
and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely
little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and
illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was
probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good. In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal
mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically
in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.
For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.
In November of 1967, 19-year-old Nancy Ward, a student at the University of Oklahoma, told her boyfriend, Fred, that she was pregnant and wanted an abortion. Fred
contacted his father for
help. On January 30, 1968, Fred's father contacted osteopath Dr. Richard Mucie at his ear, nose, and throat clinic in Kansas City and made arrangements.
On February 7, Nancy and Fred flew from Oklahoma to Kansas City.
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 Fred waited in
the outer office. Mucie came out about every half
hour to change the music on the phonograph, but didn't speak to Fred
until about 7:30 on the morning of February 8, when he came out and
asked Fred if he wanted to come back and see Nancy.
Fred went with Mucie into the office and saw Nancy lying on a couch with
a cover over her. Fred said, "Hello," to her, and though Nancy didn't
speak, she smiled and moved her hand. Mucie told Fred that Nancy was
still sedated. Fred went back
to the waiting room to nap. He was awakened at about 11:30 by Mucie's porter. Mucie told Fred that Nancy had suffered a heart
attack and was in shock and had been taken to the hospital.
Mucie came out a few
minutes later, told him that Nancy had died, and that they needed to
stick to the story that the couple had been traveling through Kansas
City and had called him because Nancy had started to have chest pains. Nancy's body was taken to
the morgue, where a detective observed the autopsy, noting needle marks
on her arms, buttocks, and left breast and taking custody of the uterus
and the skull and upper spine of a fetus of roughly 4 1/2 to 5 months
gestation still in the uterus. Most of the remainder of the fetus,
consisting of a shoulder blade, upper arm and shoulder joint, and part
of a collar bone, was found in the trash at Mucie's clinic.
The autopsy found abundant evidence of the abortion, including stains
from antiseptic on Nancy's upper thighs and genital area, a 1/2 inch
tear in Nancy's uterus. The condition of her uterus, heart, and other
organs indicated that she had gone into shock and died at the clinic at
about 9 a.m. February 8, in spite of Mucie's attempts to resuscitate
her. 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. He 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. Robert Dale Crist,
who would later go on 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.