Today we commemorate three abortion deaths. Coincidentally, the earliest, in 1874, and the most recent, in 1986, took place in Connecticut. Though the 19th century abortionist was of ill repute, the abortionist who killed our third woman was a member of a prestigious organization of abortion practitioners who purportedly provide the safest abortion care available. But the care he provided to his patient shows that this organization has a very different definition of "safe" than I do.
Twenty-four-year-old Josephine "Josie" LeClear died Wednesday, April 29, 1874. She had been living near St. John's School, a boys' school,
in Manlius Village for about two weeks, working in the culinary
department. On Saturday, April 15, she had gone to Norwich but "was sent
back this morning in a coffin and box from there, and accompanying the
box was a medical certificate, saying that she died of no contagious
Mrs. Copeland, the school matron, went to Norwich and reported "the
situation of the corpse and other things surrounding it" were very
suspicious. The coroner met the sheriff and several
concerned citizens at Josie's family home, to examine her body,
speak to her parents and brother, and decide what further steps needed
to be taken.
the doctor performing the autopsy opened her abdomen, he found that her uterus was
enlarged, punctured with a large hole at the top, and necrotic in
patches. The cause of death was clearly an abortion. Nobody in the family had known, or would have guessed, that Josie was
The investigators determined that Josie had taken very ill after her
trip to Norwich, and was cared for by Dr. H. M. Smith and several other
physicians who determined that she was suffering abortion complications. On being informed that her death was
inevitable, she identified her paramour and her abortionist.
The doctor in question was not named in the news coverage, but was identified as "a
resident practitioner of Hamilton, Madison County. His reputation is
none the best, and he has boasted that he could do these things up very
On April 29, 1914, 37-year-old homemaker Mary Stepen died at Chicago's Rhodes Avenue Hospital from septicemia and hemorrhage due to an abortion perpetrated by midwife Anna Stanek. Mary had languished in the hospital for two days before she died.
Stanek was indicted on May 15, but the case never went to 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.
For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.
Twenty-year-old Gloria Aponte went to National Abortion Federation member Hanan Rotem in Stamford, Connecticut, for a safe and legal abortion on April 29, 1986. A few hours after the abortion, Gloria was declared dead from hemorrhage at a nearby hospital. Rotem
claimed that Gloria had died from an amniotic fluid embolism. An
investigation by health officials found that Rotem had failed to perform
necessary blood tests, such as hematocrit and Rh factor, and had
permitted a receptionist with no medical training to administer
anesthesia. Rotem had no hospital privileges and no emergency patient
transfer agreement in place. For his fatal treatment of Gloria, he was
fined a total of $2,000.