Monday, May 06, 2013

Repeat Offenders of the Illegal Era

The anniversaries we observe today all involved deaths from the pre-legalization era.

On May 5, 1938, Mrs. Genevieve Horton, a practical nurse, pleaded guilty in an abortion case in Westchester County, New York. She was released on $1,500 bail. According to an indictment, after being released, Horton performed an abortion on 29-year-old Mrs. Asunta La Rosa, a mother of three, who died in her home later that evening. This underscores the need to enforce abortion laws and not to trust abortionists to set aside their instruments just because they get caught.


On May 6, 1924, 24-year-old Madelyn Anderson died at Chicago's Washington Park Hospital from a criminal abortion perpetrated that day. On May 13, Dr. Louise Achtenberg was arrested for Madelyn's death. Achtenberg was indicted for felony murder on May 15. Achtenberg was also implicated in the 1907 abortion death of Dora Swan, the 1909 abortion death of Florence Wright, and the 1921 abortion death of Violet McCormick. Clearly, loopholes in the law must be tightened, and prosecutors must have the will to pursue these cases, if abortionists are to be kept from killing their patients.


Frances Collins, a 34-year-old homemaker mother of a 16-year-old and a 6-year-old, discovered that she was pregnant in April of 1920. She informed her husband, Jerome, then asked a friend where to go to procure an abortion. The friend recommended Dr. Warner, telling her, “Go over and see him. He might be able to fix you up.” Frances went to Warner's office on West Polk Street in Chicago some time in early April, where he did something with an instrument to have “her womb opened up.” She took ill quickly, but as the days went by she seemed to have recovered. However, by the end of the month she was bleeding vaginally, “pretty hard,” as Jerome put it. He called her mother to come and care for his wife. Her condition continued to deteriorate, with Frances developing vomiting and chills. Warner came to the Collins home two or three times to look after his patient, with no improvement in her condition.

Finally, at the end of April, somebody summoned Joseph T. Woof, the family doctor, who hospitalized her. He testified that he knew that she'd sought abortions in the past, against his advice. Frances died on May 6. During the autopsy, it was discovered that Frances actually had an ectopic pregnancy. Her "many" prior abortions made her high-risk for this dangerous condition, so in a way the previous abortions probably contributed to her death as much as the final one. Given the state of medicine at the time, it's unclear how likely France was to survive an ectopic pregnancy had she sought obstetric care rather than an abortion, but her efforts to have her already doomed baby killed certainly hastened her death.


Abortionist Lucy Hagenow
On Thursday, May 2, 1907, 26-year-old Austrian immigrant Annie Horvatich of Chicago asked her new husband, Michael, to accompany her to the home of Dr. Louise Hagenow. It was late by the time they arrived. Though she didn't bring a change of clothes or any type of overnight bag, she asked Mike to look after her children (She had three from a previous marriage.) On Sunday, Mike got a phone call to go to Hagenow's place. He arrived at 10 p.m. to find his wife very sick. A Dr. Rasmussen was also present. Annie indicated that she wanted to send for a doctor from South Chicago, but Hagenow insisted that it was too late to bother the other doctor. Mike remained at Annie's side during the night, noting that by morning she appeared to be much worse. He went to the home of Mary Galavitch, who could speak English and thus serve as a translator. When Mike and Mary arrived, Hagenow met them and told them that Annie had died at 5 a.m.

Hagenow gave Mike a business card for a neighborhood undertaker. Mike indicated that he'd prefer an undertaker that he knew. Hagenow then sent Mike to Rasmussen's office to get a death certificate, which indicated that Annie had died from pneumonia and bronchitis.Mike sought out an undertaker named W.J. Freckleton, who went to Hagenow's home to pick up Annie's body at around 5 p.m. He said that Hagenow told him that she ran a private hospital, and that he should return after dark to take Annie's body out the back way. He returned at about 9 p.m. with an assistant, and found it very difficult to get Annie's body down the narrow staircase. He said that Hagenow told him that her regular undertaker never reported any trouble getting bodies out down that staircase.

The funeral was held, Annie buried, and it seemed as if Mike and the children would be getting on with their lives as best they could. But that changed on May 13. The Cook County coroner, attended by Annie's brother, John Sneller, exhumed Annie's body. Three prominent physicians performed a post mortem examination. What they found was shocking. Annie's lungs had been quite healthy and normal -- as were most of her internal organs. She clearly had not died of pneumonia. It was in her pelvis that the true cause of death was found. Her uterus was lacerated, with the top of the uterus torn nearly off, causing fatal peritonitis. From the condition of her uterus, the doctors gauged that she had been about four months pregnant, but there was no sign of the fetus, which evidently had been successfully killed, removed, and disposed of.

Hagenow admitted that Annie had come to her place on the 2nd and died on the 6th, but insisted that Annie had been bleeding vaginally upon her arrival. She insisted that Annie told her she had seen a doctor on the South Side who had "brought her around" (i.e. done an abortion). Hagenow insisted that her examination of Annie had found no signs of injury, just vaginal bleeding which she diagnosed as pneumonia. She said she had charged Annie $15 to treat her for the pneumonia, then summoned Dr. Raumussen, who she (Hagenow) knew had been charged in the past as an abortionist.

Hagenow's claim that she hadn't performed an abortion on Annie wasn't very credible, given her history. She advertised consistently in Chicago daily papers, ads reading, "Dr. Louise Hagenow; licensed physician; expert; twenty seven years; female diseases; a new scientific, painless method; no operation; good results...." " In short, she was an open and known abortionist.

Hagenow was placed on trial for Annie's death. Entered into evidence in the trial was the dying declaration of Marie Hecht, who died from one of Hagenow's "scientific, painless" abortions in 1899, as testified to by the police officer who had taken the statement. Likewise entered into evidence was the testimony of a doctor who Hagenow had brought in to help try to save the life of a young woman Hagenow had disemboweled in the process of an abortion sometime ten or fifteen years prior to the trial over Annie's death -- which would mean this girl had died between about 1892 and 1897.

A police officer also testified about taking the dying declaration of Lola Madison.

To top it off, during cross-examination, Hagenow admitted involvement in the abortion death of Hannah Carlson.

The appeals court noted, "had the evidence shown that Annie Horavitch was the only pregnant woman whom [Hagenow] had caused to miscarry or abort, it might not have been unreasonable to presume that she did so in good faith and for the purpose of saving the woman's life. .... [but for] 27 years [Hagenow] had been constantly engaged in producing miscarriages and causing abortions... [and] she kept a place for the treatment and care of women upon whom miscarriages and abortions had been caused and performed; ... she was surrounded at her house by men and women engaged in the business of causing and producing criminal miscarriages and abortions, and ... she had caused the death of several women upon whom she had caused miscarriages and produced abortions within a few years prior to her indictment for causing the death of Annie Horvatich ...."

Hagenow, nearly 60 years old at the time of her trial, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for Annie's death. Hagenow, who had already been implicated of the abortion deaths of Louise Derchow, Annie Dorris, Abbia Richards, and Emma Dep in San Francisco. She fled to Chicago to avoid prosecution, which she did quite successfully. Whatever was going on in Chicago, Hagenow remained free for years, and was linked to over a dozen Chicago abortion deaths, including Minnie Deering, Sophia Kuhn , Emily Anderson, May Putnam, Lottie Lowy, Nina H. Pierce, Jean Cohen, Bridget Masterson, Elizabeth Welter, and Mary Moorehead.
Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s. In fact, during the first two thirds of the 20th Century, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality, including mortality from abortion. Most researches attribute this plunge to improvements in public health and hygiene, the development of blood transfusion techniques, and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.

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