Monday, August 01, 2011

1929: Nurse Takes Over Jailed Husband's Abortion Business, Kills Patients

On August 1, 1929, 23-year-old schoolteacher Violet Morse, of Anaconda, Montana, died.Her death certificate was signed by Gertrude Pitkanen (pictured), who was listed as the attending doctor even though Pitkanen was actually a surgical nurse and a chiropractor. Pitkanen attributed Violet's death to myocarditis, a heart condition.

Violet's father requested a coroner's inquest, which revealed that Violet had actually died of complications of an induced abortion. Pitkanen then insisted that she had only been called to Violet's bedside after her death. With no way to verify that Pitkanen had performed the abortion, she was simple censured for failing to notify proper officials about the death, as well as for falsifying the death certificate.

Pitkanen, born in 1878 in Lincoln, Nebraska, completed her nurse's training at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She moved to Butte in 1907, and was one of the first surgical nurses at St. James Community Hospital, assisting her husband, Dr. Gustavus Pitkanen. Dr. Pitkanen was an abortionist until he was jailed for sedition in 1917, whereupon his wife took up the curette.

Pitkanen was also charged with the abortion deaths of Margie Fraser and Hilja Johnson. 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.

Of course, the response from champions of legal abortion will be to claim that legalization would have spared the lives of these women. I beg to differ, on the following grounds:

1. Maternal deaths, including deaths from abortions, were falling through the entire 20th Century due to improvements in public health and medical care. Legalization didn't even make a blip on the line. Thus, there is exactly zero evidence that legalization had any impact whatsoever on abortion mortality.
2. Legalization wouldn't make former "back alley butchers" stop plying their trade. To the contrary, I know of three who had clean records (no patient deaths) as criminal abortionists, who each went on to kill two patients through carelessness after legalization took away the fear of going to prison: Jesse Ketchum, Benjamin Munson, and Milan Vuitch.

3. Abortion lobbying groups have been pushing for nurses, midwives, and physician assistants to perform abortions legally. Thus, under the guidelines suggested by prochoice organizations,
Gertrude Pitkanen would be perfectly qualified to perform safe, legal abortions. Claiming that she was unqualified would mean that the abortion lobby is actually pushing for unsafe abortions now.

4. It's not exactly as if deaths like Violet's stopped happening after legalization. I have an entire page of post-legalization septic abortion deaths. None of these women died a pleasant death, and I don't think smirking that "all surgery has risks" is an adequate response. If "all surgery has risks" is valid grounds for brushing off a post-legalization death, it's valid grounds for brushing off a pre-legalization death. Why the double standard, abortion supporters?

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