Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fatal Abortions: 1861, 1879, 1905, 1916, 1957, 1985, and 1992

During early 1861, a German physician by the name of John H. Joecken was caring for Mr. Malinken, who was ailing in his Brooklyn home. On one of his visits, Malinken's 35-year-old wife, Caroline, approached Joecken privately and told him "she did not want to have so many children, and wished to know if it was possible to get rid of her present burthen. The doctor replied that it was the easiest thing imaginable, and that in eight days all would be over." Joecken set to work on Caroline, "and by the use of drugs as well as instruments succeeded in making her very sick." Over the course of several days her condition deteriorated. She died late Monday night, February 11. The coroner's jury concluded that Caroline had died from "pyemia, supervening upon metritis, consequent of an abortion produced at the hands of Dr. Joecken." Joecken was arrested.

On February 11, 1879, 65-year-old Henry Sammis of Northport, Long Island, got a dispatch to go to Brooklyn immediately. His daughter, 21-year-old Cora,was deathly ill. Mr. Sammis boarded the next train with his wife. About halfway to New York, he got a copy of the morning paper, where he read that his daughter had already died from the results of a botched abortion. When he arrived in Brooklyn, police asked him about Frank Cosgrove. Mr. Sammis said that Cosgrove had been courting Cora for about two years, and the couple had become engaged and had planned to marry before the spring. Cora's body was then taken to the coroner's office, where an autopsy was performed "which showed conclusively that death had resulted from malpractice." Cora's aunt, Mary D. Betts, testified that Cora and her "alleged seducer," Frank Cosgrove, had met at her house and from there went to the home of 35-year-old Bertha Berger. About two hours after they arrived at the house, Berger perpetrated the abortion. Cora was to convalesce there but instead grew increasingly ill. Cosgrove, who sat up with Cora every night, found an ad for Dr. Whitehead, who advertised that he practiced midwifery, and offered him $100 to take over Cora's care. Upon examining Cora, Whitehead found that she had a raging fever from a uterine infection. He declared that the case was hopeless. Berger offered him $50 to provide a death certificate but on the advice of his attorney Whitehead refused, instead notifying the authorities. Police came to Berger's house to question Cora, who was told that she was dying. Cora said that she and Frank had rented the room for the express purpose of having Berger perpetrate the abortion. Berger's defense was to pin the blame on Dr. Whitehead, claiming alternately that he had perpetrated the abortion elsewhere then sent the ailing woman to Berger's house to die, and that he had come to the house and perpetrated the abortion in Cora's room. Whitehead later admitted that he'd "been concerned in several malpractice cases" and had been arrested five times, but added that he'd never been convicted in an abortion case. The police evidently believed Whitehead's story, and called him as a witness against Berger. Cosgrove was arrested as an accessory. He plead guilty and sentenced to four years.

On February 11, 1905, 17-year-old Leona Loveless died in the Ischua, New York home of Dayton M. Hibler, where she had been working as a domestic for two years. Rumors immediately began circulating that she had died as the result of an abortion, and that Hibler was responsible. When word of the rumors reached his hears, Hibler took his shotgun out to the barn, first wounding himself in the chest, then successfully finishing himself off with a blast to the head. I have been unable to learn who perpetrated the fatal abortion.

On February 11, 1916, 42-year-old Eva Krakonowicz died in her Chicago home from an abortion perpetrated that day by midwife Agnes Dzugas. Dzugas was held by the coroner and indicted by a Grand Jury on February 1, but the case never went to trial.

On February 11, 1957, veterinarian Ira Ledbetter performed an abortion on 38-year-old Alice Kimberly. Ledbetter used a veterinary instrument called a milk tube on Alice, causing lacerations and an embolism. A milk tube is a cannula with a bulb syringe attached, which sounds very much like the early abortion device popularized by Harvey Karman. She quickly died of her injuries. Ledbetter had picked Alice up at her home about 1:00 p.m. Leter that afternoon he up to a mortuary in Coldwater, Kansas and announced that he'd found a dead woman lying by the side of the road and had her body in his car. Agnes Swarmer, the mortuary attendant, contacted the Dr. McCoy, the county coroner, who summoned the sheriff. Upon autopsy, McCoy found a lot of frothy blood in the pulmonary arteries, clear evidence of a massive air embolism. Death, he concluded, would have been almost instantaneous. Alice had been about ten to twelve weeks pregnant, with the placenta torn lose. McCoy concluded that somebody with enough skill not to have injured Alice's cervix -- and thus not Alice herself -- had used the milk tube to put air between the placenta and the uterine wall, causing the fatal embolism. Ledbetter, age 65, appealed his conviction. He was offered release on $10,000 bond pending appeal after being convicted of first-degree manslaughter in Alice's death, but the court upheld his conviction. 

In late January of 1985, Pentecostal pastor Ruth Ravenell got a phone call. "They told me I had to get down to St. Luke's right away, that Dawn was at that hospital fighting for her life. I was going, 'How can she be fighting for her life? She left for school this morning, looking healthy, never been sick.'"  When she got to the hospital, Ruth learned that her 13-year-old daughter had gotten pregnant by her 15-year-old boyfriend. With the secret help of a teacher and counselor at school, Dawn had arranged an abortion at Easter Women's Center in New York City, a National Abortion Federation member clinic.  Anesthetist Robert Augente didn't administer enough anesthesia to get Dawn through the entire procedure. About halfway through, she began to cough, vomit, and choke. Abortionist Alan Kline put a breathing tube in Dawn's throat, put her aside, and left her unattended to lapse into a coma. "While I was there at the hospital -- they were doing tests -- I had to keep my hand pressed over my mouth to keep from screaming in horror." Ruth said. "I kept going, 'This is all a bad dream. I am going to wake up and this will not have happened.'" Day after day Dawn's family gathered at her bedside, talking to her, playing tapes of the family singing together, trying to lure her back from the brink of death -- all to no avail. Dawn died three weeks after her abortion, on February 11, 1985, without ever having regained consciousness.

DaNette Pergusson, a 19-year-old medical assistant, submitted to a safe, legal abortion on February 11, 1992, at the hands of Robert Tarnis of Phoenix, Arizona. During the abortion, DaNette stopped breathing, and paramedics were summoned. The Maricopa County deputy medical examiner determined that DaNette died from a pulmonary embolism.

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