Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Three Abortion Deaths Over More than a Century

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 disease."

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. When 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 pregnant.

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 neatly."


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.

external image MaternalMortality.gif


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.

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