Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Self-Induced and Illegal Abortion Deaths Spanning a Century

Self-Induced in Colorado, 1978

On November 15, 1978, 18-year-old "Sharon" was admitted to the Denver General Hospital emergency room. She was suffering from nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Her mood was alternating between agitation and lethargy. She reported having believed that she was pregnant -- though she had menstruated only three weeks previously -- and drinking two half-ounce bottle of pennyroyal oil. Since she had also been seriously depressed, doctors were unsure whether to consider her ingestion of pennyroyal as an abortion attempt or as a suicide attempt.

Sherran had used pennyroyal tea in the past to start her periods when she'd thought that she was pregnant. She'd become ill within a few hours of drinking the oil.

A medical botanist, Dr. Walter Lewis, wrote about the case:

Within two hours she vomited blood and bled from the vagina and eyes. By the third day her liver was damaged. On the sixth day, she sank into a coma and died on the seventh day.
This would indicate that Sharon died on November 22.

Upon autopsy it became clear that Sharon had not even been pregnant. The pennyroyal oil had done such serious damage to her liver that portions of it had died. During her hospitalization she, like Kris Humphry, had developed disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC, a disorder in which the blood can no longer clot). It was eventually the hemorrhagic damage to her liver that caused her death.

The Centers for Disease Control investigated Sharon's death, along with other deaths from illegal abortion. They concluded that she, like the others whose deaths they studied, had sought an abortion outside the medical establishment for "idiosyncratic reasons." 


Two Chicago Deaths, 1917 and 1913

On November 22, 1917, 20-year-old Helen Devora died at Chicago's West End Hospital from an abortion performed by an unknown perpetrator.

Four years to the day earlier, 33-year-old Hulda Tubbin died in Chicago, at the scene of an abortion perpetrated that day by Dr. Olaf Olson. Though Olson was indicted for felony murder, the case never went to trial.

Fishy Goings-On in California, 1897


On November 23, 1897, a funeral procession in Irvington, California, was stopped just as about the body was being loaded onto a ferry. The deceased was 24-year-old Ida Coakley, a homemaker who had only been married to John Coakley, a farmer, for two months. John reported that he'd taken her to the office of Dr. Samuel Hall the previous day to be treated for a heart problem.He had left the doctor's office and returned that evening only to find his wife dead. Her body was promptly removed to a funeral establishment.

A night watchman at a nearby bank had found the timing of the departure from the funeral establishment fishy and had contacted the police, hence the interruption of the funeral. Ida's body was taken for an autopsy, and a coroner's jury convened. They concluded "That Mrs. Ida Coakley, aged 24 years, nativity California, occupation housewife, residence Irvington, Alameda county, came to her death November 22, 1897, at 14 McAllister street, from septicaemia, following an attempt at abortion; and we further find that deceased came to her death from the effects of a criminal operation performed by Dr. Samuel H. Hall, and we further find that John Coakley was an accessory to the same crime."

Hall was arrested when he arrived in San Jose to visit his wife and daughter. He said that he'd not known that Ida had been pregnant when she and her husband had come to his office on Saturday. He'd treated her with morphine and nitroglycerin. On Monday see seemed okay, he said, but he left her for a while only to return to his office and find her dead. He said that he assumed that she must have died from an aneurysm.

John Coakley admitted that he had taken Ida to hall and asked if an abortion would be safe for her. When Hall had assured him that it would be safe, John paid $50 and Hall promptly took Ida into a procedure room. A few minutes later, Hall returned, told John that Ida had been fine, and sent her home.

Dr. Hall's daughter, Josephine Wells, testified that Ida had come to the McAllister Street house at about noon on the Saturday before her death. Hall had asked to use Josephine's room for a couple of days to care for Ida, who Hall told Josephine suffered heart disease. Ida was sitting in a chair by the fire the following Monday, where she died at about 6 o'clock in the evening.

The charges against John Coakley were dropped during the first trial in order to loosen his tongue against Hall. John Coakley proved useless during the trial, however. He broke down on the stand but the prosecution was unable to get him to say anything significant. The trial resulted in a hung jury, voting seven to five for acquittal. A second trial against Hall ended in acquittal after Coakley fled the state, leaving the prosecution minus the prime witness.

Hall had been twice tried for the 1891 abortion death of Ida Shaddock. The first trial ended in a hung jury and the second, three years later and after several key witnesses had moved away or died, resulted in acquittal.

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