Monday, April 15, 2013

1997 and 1932

Sixteen-year-old Maureen Espinoza underwent a safe, legal abortion at a doctor's office in San Antonio on March 28, 1997. During the abortion, the doctor punctured Maureen's uterus, but didn't note this in her medical records or say anything to her about it, indicating that he simply didn't notice. Maureen was sent home. On April 3, she went to the emergency room at Northeast Baptist Hospital. Over the ensuing days, doctors there performed two surgeries to try to save her life, but to no avail. She died on April 15, 1997.

Abortion rights organizations would assert that while sad, Maureen's death was just an example of how all surgery has risks. But when you consider that most abortions prior to legalization were done by doctors, wouldn't the same "all surgery has risks" be to blame for most illegal abortion deaths as well?

 Let's look at a case in the past. 

On Tuesday, April 5, 1932, 22-year-old Ruth Hall went with her friends Helen and Margy to Dr. Richard E. Thacker's office in Oklahoma City to arrange an abortion. Thacker took Ruth back into his exam room for five or ten minutes. Thacker told her to return at noon the following day. She, Margy, and Helen returned as instructed, bringing Ruth's roommate, Elma, with them. Helen went into the procedure room with Ruth, while Elma and Margy waited. Thacker used a procedure fairly common in abortion practice of the time: packing the patient's uterus with gauze and telling her to remove it in 24 hours. Helen said that Thacker didn't examine Ruth at all, though he might have examined her on the earlier visit.

Helen's friends kept close watch on her over the next few days. She seemed very sick, but after using the bathroom and passing something into the toilet she seemed to feel better. On Saturday Ruth's brother came as usual to bring his sister home to visit their parents. They arrived in the afternoon, and Mrs. Hall was concerned that Ruth didn't seem well at all. It wasn't until about 11:00 that night that Ruth finally told her mother about the abortion.

Mrs. Hall called the family doctor, who consulted with her over the phone but did not come to check on Ruth. Evidently he told Mrs. Hall to call Ruth's abortionist, because Mrs. Hall promptly called Thacker and browbeat him into coming to take care of his patient. He got out a case of instruments, only washing his hands after Mrs. Hall reminded him. He used an iodine swab to clean out Ruth's body.

Mrs Hall said that after he was finished he sat at the foot of the bed for some time, complaining to Ruth's family that he didn't approve of abortions, that he'd told Ruth that when she'd come to the office but "I could not turn her down. It seems like the more I try to help people lately the most of them get into worse trouble." He said that his wife would kill him if she knew about the abortions, and that he felt sometimes he'd be better off if he just jumped in the river." He finished by telling them, "Before I do anything like this again, the husbands will have to come with the wives, or the mothers with the daughters."

Over the coming week, Ruth's condition didn't improve. Mrs. Hall asked Thacker if she could call another doctor but he said he didn't think it would be necessary. Finally on Friday, April 15, Mrs. Hall called the family doctor, another doctor named Ferris, and Thacker. By the time Thacker got to the house, Ruth was dead.

Ruth's sister tried to shake Thacker down for funeral expenses, but he refused on the grounds that he'd done the best he could. The sister made good on her threat and Thacker fled, to eventually be tracked down in Springdale, Arkansas.

During the trial, and over Thacker's understandable, albeit unsustainable, objections, the court permitted a number of witnesses to testify that after Ruth's visit to his practice, Thacker had performed fatal abortions on Robbie Lou Thompson, Lennis May Roach, and Nancy Joe Lee, who died on April 23, 24, and 25, respectively.

Thacker, along with osteopath John Eisiminger, had already been linked to the 1929 abortion death of 19-year-old Marie Epperson. Thacker and Eisimger seemed to have grown skittish after Marie's death, since they managed to go for three years without killing another patient. Thacker had signed the death certificate of 30-year-old Ethel Hestland, who died on April 3 from a criminal abortion, and it all went downhill from there.
Thacker was sentenced to life in prison for Ruth Hall's death. He died in 1937. Had he been held properly accountable for the death of Marie Epperson, he would have been in prison and unable to perpetrate the fatal string of abortions in the spring of 1932.

No comments: