Thursday, February 12, 2009

1923: A typical "back-alley" abortion death

Dr. A.B.C. Davis maintained an office, operating rooms, and rooms with beds for patients in Oklahoma City. Mary Sudik and her husband, Ernest Sudik, lived some miles southeast of Oklahoma City, on a truck farm. Early in February, 1923, Mary Sudik found out that she was pregnant, and that she and her husband asked around for an abortionist and were referred to Davis.

On February 10th they went to Davis' office, and he assured them that he could perform a safe abortion, named his price, took his money, then performed the abortion. Mary developed a fatal infection. Mr. Sudik went to Davis and told him of Mary's death. Davis said he was sorry and offered Sudik money to help defray funeral expenses. Sudik at first declined, instead going to the county attorney to report Davis's treatment of Mary. The county attorney told him to go back to Davis and take the proffered money. When Mr. Sudik returned, Davis gave him $50, but first made him sign the following statement:

Oklahoma City, Okla., Feb. 20, 1923.

This will exonerate Dr. A.B.C. Davis from any blame concerning the illness or death of my wife, Mary Sudik, on February 12, 1923, near Moore, Oklahoma.

Ernest Sudik.

Witness Gus Sudik.

Mr. Sudik then returned to the county attorney's office and turned over the money Davis had given him, and a warrant of arrest was issued. A deputy sheriff went to Davis's office and arrested him. At the time of the arrest the officer seized a large quantity of ergot and other abortifacients. Immediately after placing the Davis in jail, the officers returned to his office and seized and carried away some instruments and appliances commonly used to perform abortions.

The officers also seized written statements signed by various women, stating that they agreed to hold Davis blameless for any dangerous or fatal results that might follow his treatment for "operations" performed by themselves or others. Many of the women who had signed these statements later testified that Davis had performed "operations" upon them under circumstances indicating that his practice consisted chiefly in performing abortions. They also testified that Davis insisted that they sign the statements prior to his performing their abortions. One of these witnesses was convalescing from an abortion in one of the beds in the room adjoining the doctor's office at the time of his arrest; another one came there for an "operation" while the premises were being searched by the police.

Davis admitted that he had treated the women, but denied doing any abortions. He insisted that these women all came to him only for aftercare for abortions performed elsewhere by somebody else. He claimed that this had been the case with Mary Sudik.

On April 1, 1923, Davis found guilty of the murder of Mary Sudik, accomplished by the use and employment of instruments upon her for the purpose of producing a criminal abortion. The punishment imposed by the jury was imprisonment for life.

He appealed on many grounds, but the appeal was unsuccessful. He was, however, paroled -- and arrested in 1936 for mail fraud.

Mary's abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

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