Saturday, January 02, 2016

A Hundred-Year Span of Abortion Deaths

St. Louis, 1878

A St. Louis grand jury indicted Charles P. Emerich in the 1878 abortion death of 19-year-old Maggie Gibbons.  Maggie was living at Emerich's home. He owned the laundry where Maggie work and was the father of Maggie's baby.  When she told him she was pregnant in December of 1877, Emerich went to Dr. Thomas F. Smith, who provided abortifacient powders which failed to produce the desired effect.  It is unclear whether Smith perpetrated the fatal abortion on Maggie or if he just provided the instruments. The abortion in question was performed on December 30.

Maggie took sick afterward and was relocated to her mother's house. Dr. W. D. Hinckley was called in to care for her. It was then that Maggie's mother learned about the abortion, though Maggie refused to name the father. Dr. Hinckley called in Dr. J. O'Reilly for a second opinion. Both doctors agreed that she was suffering from a servere case of peritonitis and that there was no hope for her.  Maggie languished, finally dying on January 2 of 1878.  Emerich was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter in Maggie's death, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Chicago, 1917

Margaret Crowe, age 25, died from Dr. Anna Sorenson's dubious care at Chicago's Norwegian Deaconess Hospital, purportedly on January 2, 1918. Sorenson had already managed to kill Emelia Gorman on August 10, 1917, and Margaret Linstrom on November 12 of that year. Sorenson's fatal spree was put to an end with her death in prison on November 17, 1917 while awaiting her trials.  I've been unable to determine if Margaret languished for so long that she outlived her abortionist, or if the Homicide in Chicago Database is mistaken about the date of her death. Since the database is incorrect about the date that Sorenson died, giving it as January 2, 1918 rather than November 17, 1917, this is likely.

New York, 1970

Amy" was 35 years old when she had a legal abortion somewhere in the state of New York on December 24, 1970, taking advantage of the state's new law granting outpatient abortion-on-demand up to 24 weeks of gestation. Amy was 14 weeks pregnant. During the abortion, Amy suffered from a massive pulmonary embolism. Efforts to save her life finally failed, and she died on January 2, 1971, leaving behind two children.

Though Amy was the first woman identified as an abortion victim in 1971 as states experimented with legalization, she wasn't the last. Other women to die from purportedly safe legal abortions that year include
Cassandra Bleavins, Janet Forster, Doris Grant, Betty Hines, "Annie" Roe, "Andrea" Roe, "Anita" Roe, "April" Roe, "Audrey" Roe, "Barbara" RoeBeth" Roe, "Monica" Roe, "Roseann" Roe, "Sandra" Roe, "Tammy" Roe, "Vicki" Roe, LaSandra Russ, Carole Schaner, Margaret Smith, and Kathryn Strong.

Chicago, 1978

A news clipping photo of a young woman with thick, dark hair parted in the middle and large eyeglasses in the style of the late 1970s
Sherry Emry
On December 28, 1977, 26-year-old leather shop owner Sherry Emry went to Water Tower Reproductive Center in Chicago for a safe and legal abortion. Arnold Bickham,(pictured below) who owned the facility, did not have his staff do pathology exams on abortion tissues; instead they threw them away.

After her abortion, Sherry returned to her home in Hammond, Indiana. She was in pain on New Years Eve. She consulted with the clinic instruction sheet and concluded that her pain was normal. By January 1, Sherry was quite ill and unable to arise from her bed. Her worried friends urged her to seek medical care, but Sherry thought that she just had the flu, so she kept to her bed. She slept fitfully, with chills and sweating. When her friends came to check on her the morning of January 2, they found her dead in her bed and called the police.

Sherry's fetus had been implanted in her fallopian tube, which ruptured. She bled to death. The coroner blamed Sherry's death on the fact that Water Tower threw fetal remains away without a pathology analysis. However, the police found that Sherry had a receipt from Water Tower indicating a $50 discount. They hypothesized that staff might have noted the lack of a fetus in the aspirator, concluded that Sherry hadn't been pregnant, and given her a partial refund.

Headshot of a bald, middle-aged Black man wearing a white shirt and black necktie
Arnold Bickham
A CDC report about Sherry's death says, "At this clinic the physicians did not routinely examine the products of conception except through the wall of the transparent suction tubing as tissue was aspirated.... The tissue was neither weighed nor examined.... The aspirated material from all patients was collected together in a single bottle." "Autopsy revealed 4,000 ml of blood in the peritoneal cavity and a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.... fetal size was consistent with a 10 weeks gestation."

When Sherry's survivors filed suit against Bickham, he refused to turn over her medical records, first saying that they were privileged, then by claiming that they were his personal property and that Sherry's family had no right to them. Bickham was held in contempt of court for his refusal to cooperate with the courts in the matter.

Sherry wasn't the only woman to die after abortion in a Bickham facility.
Sylvia Moore, age 18, died after Bickham shoved her out the door of his clinic New Years Eve of 1986.

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