Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fatal Abortions from 1848 Through 2000

In January of 1848, 20-year-old Ann Gallager of Boston approached a married friend, Catherine Beath, with the news that she was pregnant. Ann asked Catherine to go with her to Dr. John Stevens to arrange an abortion. "The doctor refused, saying that he was an old man and did not do such things." Ann offered him $50, Catherine said, but Stevens insisted that "he would not do it for all the world." Ann was angry, and went home to try to abort the baby herself. Over the following weeks, Ann tried pouring boiling water over tobacco leaves and breathing the steam as well as drinking some rum in which she had soaked rusty nails before she finally tried a knitting needle, which Catherine took away from her. Ann retorted to Catherine that she was going to do the abortion one way or another. She went to Catherine's house to get the knitting needle for another attempt, this time producing some bleeding. In March, Ann went to Dr. Stebbins, asking for some abortifacient pills. She described her prior attempts at abortion, including the bleeding after the knitting needle attempt. "I told her if she continued to use the means thus far employed, she would kill herself." As March wore on, Ann took ill. She gave a sworn statement that on March 15, she had gone to Dr. John Stevens for an abortion, which he had done with instruments. Two days later, she said, she had expelled the dead baby, a boy. Ann's condition continued to deteriorate until her death on March 25. The primary evidence that the state presented in Dr. Stevens's trial consisted of Ann's statement and the testimony of a jailed prostitute whose story kept changing. Stevens was acquitted.

Delia Bell, aged 14 in 1889, had been the product of her mother's first marriage, in Texas. After a divorce, she had moved to Birmingham, Alabama and married a Mr. McDermott. She separated from him, suing for divorce on the grounds of adultery, and set up a small dressmaking shop that she ran with Delia. The two of them lived with a Mrs. Bell, who I presume was Delia's maternal grandmother. Evidently the women in that house were not of the highest repute, and neighbors reported an unseemly coming and going of men. When Delia took violently ill on a Sunday morning, the neighbors were suspicious. Three doctors were called in to care for the girl on March 25. "All the aids known to medical science were tried without avail, and about 3 o'clock in the afternoon it was decided to resort to an operation." One of the doctors concluded that Delia's mother had known that she was pregnant, but her grandmother hadn't. The doctors notified the coroner and turned over a bottle to him that had contained an abortifacient traced to a man named George A. Foule of East Birmingham. Foule was a saloon keeper. He called his potion a treatment for "blood diseases and feminine troubles" -- a code for abortifacient.

A five-story, boxy red-brick building with many windows, two chimneys, and a fire escape
Ravenswood Hospital
On March 25, 1909, 37-year-old homemaker Carrie Pearson died at Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago from septicemia caused by an abortion perpetrated by 39-year-old midwife Caroline Meyer of on March 18 at 447 Wells Street. Meyer was held by the coroner but the case resulted in a hung jury.

Homemaker Celia Schultz, age 29, died in a Chicago home from septicemia caused by an abortion on March 25, 1910. A woman named Mary Rommell was indicted for felony murder by a grand jury. The source document does not indicate her profession, or that the case ever went to trial.

On March 25, 1916, Angela Raia of Astoria, Long Island died, evidently from the results of an abortion. Her husband Ignazio sued two doctors, Harlan E. Linehan and Dennis McAuliffe, for $400, asserting that their negligence had caused Angela's death. McAuliffe joined the military and went to France. Linehan joined a medical advisory board and was busy with his duties at the time the suit was filed. He offered to settle with Angela's husband, saying that he wanted "to relieve himself of the annoyance of the case." Angela's husband took the offer.

Headshot of a miiddle-aged bespectacled man who is looking down
Emil Gleitsman
In the spring of 1933, Edward Dettman's 21-year-old girlfriend, Mary Colbert, told him that she'd missed her period and asked him, "What can be done?" Later, during the inquest over her death, he said that he'd responded, "I don't know, that was up to her." He had, he said, offered to marry her, but she'd refused, saying she didn't want to marry "in disgrace." Her aunt, on the other hand, said that Mary told her that she didn't want to marry anybody at all at that point in her life. Once Mary elected to seek an abortion, Edward took her to Dr. Emil Gleitsman. Afterward, Mary took ill and confided in her aunts. One, Annie Cullinan recalled having asked her, "Mamie, why did you not tell me, and I would get a good doctor." Mary died on March 25. 
A middle-aged white man with short hair and glasses wearing a white shirt with the collar open
Dr. Henrie
On March 3, 1962, Dr. W.J. Bryan Henrie, an osteopath, performed an abortion on 33-year-old Jolene Joyce Griffith, at his clinic in Grove, Oklahoma. Jolene developed an infection, and, according to her survivors, Griffith abandoned her and provided no care to treat the infection. On March 10, Jolene was admitted to a hospital in Tulsa. She died there on March 25, leaving behind a husband and three minor children. Henire was conviced, and served 25 months of a 4-year sentence. Upon his release, he went right back to doing abortions. Abortion rights activists continue to revere Henrie, and to totally ignore the fate of Jolene Griffith. What's a few dead women among friends?

On March 25, 2000, 22-year-old Maria Rodriguez went to Steve Lichtenberg's Albany Medical Surgical Center  in Chicago for a late second trimester abortion. Albany is part of Family Practice Associates Medical Group, a large chain of abortion clinics and founding member of the National Abortion Federation. Lichtenberg estimated Maria's pregnancy at 18 weeks and went ahead with the what a later expert consultant called "a seemingly uncomplicated (albeit short) procedure." At about 9:00 a.m., Maria was showing signs of shock from hemorrhage. The expert consultant pointed out that Lichtenberg had failed to notice that he had ruptured Maria's uterus. Lichtenburg treated the bleeding with methods that would contract the uterus but would not, of course, address a rupture. He continued to deal with the emergency at his clinic for an hour and a half before somebody called 911. Doctors at the hospital tried to save her, to no avail, she died that evening. 
N.B. At a National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar in the 1990s, Michael Burnhill of the Alan Guttmacher Institute scolded Lichtenberg for "playing Russian roulette" with patients' lives by performing risky abortions in an outpatient setting and treating serious complications on site in his procedure room rather than transporting them to a hospital. Evidently Lichtenberg chose not to listen to Burnhill's warning. Maria was not the only woman to die at an FPA facility. Other women to die from abortions at FPA facilities include Denise Holmes,  Patricia Chacon,  Mary Pena,  Josefina Garcia,  Lanice Dorsey,  Joyce Ortenzio,  Tami Suematsu,  Deanna Bell,  Susan Levy,  Christina Mora,  Ta Tanisha WessonNakia Jorden,  Maria Leho,  Kimberly Neil, and Chanelle Bryant.

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