Saturday, May 18, 2013

Two Doctors Kill One Patient, and an Unknown Perp

Janice Easterbrook, who was 20 years old, traveled with her parents from her home Arcadia, Nebraska to  to Dr. Harry Werbin's Kansas City, Missouri office to arrange an abortion. Werbin took Janice into his office to examine her, then consulted with her parents, explaining that he charged $100 per month of pregnancy, so the charge for Janice's abortion would be $300. Mr. Easterbrook handed $300 to his wife, who handed the $300 to their daughter, who handed it to the doctor. Werbin asked when they wanted the abortion done, and Janice said, "Now is as good a time as any." Werbin took her back into his private office. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Janice emerged, not seeming ill, but with some blood drops on her shoes. Werbin took her back into his office, and instructed her mother to go down to the drug store and buy some Kotex. When Mrs. Easterbrook returned with the Kotex, the parents asked Werbin if Janice should go to the hospital, and he said, "No. Let's leave the hospitals out of it. I know how to take care of it, and what to do." He gave Janice some medication, and gave her parents one of his cards, on which he'd written the name of the U-Smile Motel on Highway 40.

 Janice returned with her family on Saturday morning, May 17, per Werbin's instructions. Werbin took her back into his office for about fifteen minutes. That evening at the motel, Janice began to vomit violently. Her mother called Werbin, who came back and forth to the motel several times, spending more and more time on each visit, staying there most of Saturday night. Janice was sick and in a lot of pain, and Mrs. Easterbrook again suggested taking Janice to a hospital. Werbin reassured the parents that it was not uncommon for women to be in Janice's condition after an abortion. He used a curved instrument about ten inches long to remove some tissue from her vagina.

On Sunday morning, Janice got up to use the toilet, where she passed a mutilated fetus about six inches long. Her parents summoned Werbin, who summoned Dr. Richard Mucie to assist him at about 11:00 a.m. Janice's parents were alarmed that she appeared blue and was breathing rapidly. Werbin and Mucie held a quiet conversation that the parents couldn't overhear, then Mucie picked Janice up and carried her out to Werbin's car, telling her parents to caravan with them to Independence Hospital. After driving about six miles east, Werbin did a U-turn, and the Easterbrooks lost him in traffic. Werbin went to General Hospital, where he met Joseph L. Connors, a non-physician and deputy coroner, at about 3:10 p.m., telling him that the dead woman in his car was a patient he'd been called to treat at the U-Smile for hemorrhage.

Mucie testified that Werbin had called him in to assist in treating a botched self-induced abortion at the motel, and that Werbin had performed a curretage to remove tissue, while Mucie had given her medications to stimulate circulation. In spite of their efforts, Janice died. Mucie concluded that Janice had died from an embolism, possibly air or a clot lodged in the heart or lungs. The autopsy found ample evidence of a pregnancy and an abortion performed with instruments. Janice's uterus had been perforated, and Owens concluded that she had bled to death. Werbin was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years. His sentence was upheld on appeal.

It's difficult to distinguish Janice's abortion from a modern, safe-n-legal one. She went to a reputable physician who treated her in his office. Keeping her in a motel room while she recovered is considered perfectly acceptable for late-term abortionists such as LeRoy Carhart in the current day. Delaying before bringing her to the hospital, likewise, isn't unusual. That's how Tonya Reaves died.

On May 18, 1925, Della Davis, a 25-year-old Black woman, died in Chicago from an illegal abortion performed that day, leaving behind her husband, Huston. The person responsible for her death was never caught.

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. 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.

external image MaternalMortality.gif

No comments: