Friday, May 20, 2011

Three Criminal Anniversaries

On May 20, 1870, Matilda Henningsen died in Brooklyn. An investigation led to a man whose qualifications as a physician were sketchy, but whose identity as an abortionist was clear.

Dr. Claude C. Long tried to use the Tiller Defense after Genevieve Arganbright died under his dubious care on May 20, 1937. The jury didn't buy it, instead giving credence to the prosecution's contention that had Genevieve really been sick enough to need an abortion, she'd have been far too sick to just do one on the spot in an outpatient facility.

Surgical nurse Gertrude Pitkanen had taken over her husband's abortion business when he died, with fatal results for Hilja Johnson, who died on May 20, 1939. Pitkanen was also charged with the abortion deaths of Violet Morse in 1929 and Margie Fraser in 1936. A woman who was a student nurse at St. James Hospital in Butte remembered Pitkanen's victims. "They died horrible deaths from infection," she told a reporter from the Montana Standard.

Points to consider:

*Did abortion's legal status truly leave abortion-minded women with no choice but the stereotypical "back alley butcher"?

*Abortion advocacy organizations now are agitating for midwives, nurses, and physician assistants to be permitted to legally perform abortions. Is this significantly different from what Gertrude Pitkanen was doing?

*Were the people arrested for these deaths victims of persecution because of bad laws? Or were the people who set them free to continue to ply their trade guilty of failing to protect women?

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