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
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
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.