Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Early 20th Century Chicago, a Doctor and a Midwife

On March 13, 1917, 33-year-old Minnie Schofield died at a Chicago residence after an abortion performed that day by Dr. Fred L. Orsinger. Both Orsinger and Minnie's husband, Thomas, were held by the coroner. Thomas never went to trial; Orsinger was acquitted on May 8, 1920. Minnie was in immigrant from Ireland.

On March 13, 1909, Mrs. Lena Oppedal, age 37, died at Norwegian Tabitha Hospital in Chicago from peritonitis caused by a ruptured ectopic pregnancy complicated by an attempted abortion. A midwife named Carrin Bakke was held to a grand jury and indicted for murder but the source document doesn't indicate that there was a trial.

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.

external image MaternalMortality.gif

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