On August 14, 1908, 23-year-old homemaker Bertha Isserstadt, a Jewish immigrant from Austria, died at Chicago's Evangelical Deconesses' Hospital from complications of an abortion perpetrated on August 5. A woman named Margaret Wiedman, age 39, was held by the coroner. Weidman insisted that she had been summoned to Bertha's home on June 13 and asked to perform an abortion but she had refused. Bertha's death, she said, was caused by eating green apples.
Doctor Committed for Insanity, Denver, 1917
Safe and Legal in Los Angeles, 1984
Yvonne Tanner, a 22-year-old mother of a young daughter, had a safe and legal abortion performed by Stephen Pine and/or Morton Barke July 10, 1984 at Inglewood Women's Hospital. Yvonne went into a coma immediately after the abortion, and died August 14, 1984. Her death certificate indicates coma, hypertension, and urinary tract infection. The suit by her survivors alleged that Yvonne was not adequately advised of the risks prior to undergoing the fatal abortion. The other women who met their deaths at Inglewood include: Kathy Murphy, Lynette Wallace, Elizabeth Tsuji, Cora Lewis, and Belinda Byrd.
"Natural" Abortion, California, 1994
Kris had undergone a clinic abortion previously, at a Planned Parenthood, but hadn't liked the experience. According to a friend, she found the procedure painful and the staff indifferent. Kris, said the friend, thought the staff at Planned Parenthood "treated her like she was doing something wrong, something she should be ashamed of." for choosing abortion. Her stepbrother's death two years earlier due to an allergic reaction to a painkiller also led her to distrust modern medicine, said Kris's family.
Kris routinely used herbal remedies for minor ailments, so she already had ideas about where to go for information on an herbal abortion. She consulted friends. One of Kris's friends said she'd done more than one self-induced abortion and recommended an abortion technique from Wise Woman Herbal, by Susun Weed. The method relied on a tea of pennyroyal extract and black cohosh root, both readily available in health-food stores. On August 5, Kris started the abortion regimen.
Over the approximately 10 days Kris was taking the tea, she went about her business, socializing with friends and family. Kris experienced abdominal pain and cramping, which she took as signs that the abortion was going as planned. Neither Kris nor her friend who recommended the tea thought anything was wrong at first.
The only person who was concerned was Kris's mother, Embee. The two attended a movie together on August 7, and Kris told her mother about the pregnancy and about her herbalist plans. Embee, who'd suffered through an ectopic pregnancy once, saw something familiar in the way Kris was holding her side from pain. She asked Kris if she was sure that the pregnancy was normal, not ectopic, but her daughter evaded the question. Instead, Kris told her mother that the abortion should be complete on the 9th, and that she'd call then. But Kris continued to experience problems and continued to take the abortion concoction.
By Friday, August 12, Kris had given up on her herbal abortion plan. Embee and a friend offered to pay for her to have the abortion done at Planned Parenthood the next day. But when one of Kris's many housemates came home at 7:30 that evening, she found Kris pale and feverish, and learned that she'd been vomiting. Kris continued to suffer chills, cramps, and vomiting for the next six hours.
Her condition continued to deteriorate. She passed out at around 11 p.m. Her friends continued to try to care for her, placing her in a cold bath at about 2 a.m on Saturday to try to address her feverish sweating. But Kris just went into a seizure, so her friends carried her to the kitchen. One of them noticed that she wasn't breathing and started screaming. One friend called 911 while another attempted to perform CPR on the kitchen floor.
The paramedics arrived at 2:27 a.m and found Kris pulseless. They managed to resuscitate her enroute to the hospital, where emergency room staff put her on a ventilator and tried to stabilize her. Her friends told staff about the abortion, and even brought the bottles of pennyroyal and black cohosh. The staff had no idea what effects the herbs might be having on Kris, and called poison control.
Kris was in shock and suffering from disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC), a catastrophic clotting disorder. "She was bleeding from everywhere," said a doctor who treated her. "She was even bleeding from all the places she was pierced--her nose, her mouth, her brow, her labia. Everywhere."
Doctors suspected an ectopic pregnancy, but feared doing exploratory surgery because Kris's condition was so fragile. While they were just done with a CAT scan at around 9:00 Saturday morning, Kris went into cardiac arrest. Staff used a defibrillator several times in addition to multiple IV lines to revive her. After half an hour, her heart finally started beating again. But despite all the IV fluids, she still had no blood pressure.
In desperation, the doctors proceeded with surgery, finding an right tubal pregnancy that was bleeding from the end of the fallopian tube. The tube itself had not ruptured. The doctors removed the pregnancy and "significant quantity of old blood which was malodorous." Even though the tube hadn't ruptured, it appeared that the effect of the pennyroyal on Kris's liver had caused the clotting problems that had led to her excessive internal bleeding.
After surgery, Kris showed no signs of responsiveness. She was declared brain dead on Sunday. Friends and family gathered at the hospital and life support was turned off. Half an hour later, at 4:51 p.m., Kris was declared dead.
Testing on samples of Kris' liver showed that her liver showed signs of damage associated with one of the substances, pulegone, contained in pennyroyal. Kris's divorced parents are united after her death in a lawsuit filed against the pennyroyal manufacturer and the store where Kris likely bought the herbs. Kris's friends, on the other hand, blame the health clinic where Kris had her positive pregnancy test. They say that the clinic should have done an ultrasound to check the location of the embryo. But since Kris had no unusual symptoms at the time, and had been given a referral to Planned Parenthood, there really was no reason for the clinic to do such an examination. Nobody, it seems, is blaming the culture that makes abortion normative and assures young women that it's perfectly safe.
Another abortion death due to pennyroyal ingestion is Sharran Parks, who died on Colorado on November 22, 1978.