Thursday, October 20, 2011

Legal and illegal deaths, and lessons learned or left unlearned

On October 20, 1877, Nellie Ryan, an unmarried 21-year-old white woman from Turner Junction, Illinois, died in Chicago during a criminal abortion. Midwife Amelia Spork was arrested for Nellie's death. Since midwives were an ordinary source of pregnancy care at the time, it's difficult to assert that Nellie was somehow "forced" to go to a midwife rather than a physician for an abortion due to abortion laws. It's also hard to assert that legalization would have improved the overall state of Nellie's health going into the abortion, the state of medical practice at the time, or any other factor that typically contributed to all manner of maternal mortality of the time.

On October 20, 1921, 30-year-old Annie Sczepkowski died at Jefferson Park Hospital in Chicago from complications of an abortion perpetrated by an unknown suspect. Tillie Pawlowski was arrested, but exonerated by the Coroner. Just as in Nellie's case, it's difficult to assert that laws caused Annie's death. No law would have given either woman access to things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks.

In fact, during the first two thirds of the 20th Century, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality, including mortality from abortion. Most researches attribute this plunge to improvements in public health and hygiene, the development of blood transfusion techniques, and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.
external image MaternalMortality.gif

So let's fast forward to 1971, after the enlightened members of the New York legislature legalized abortion on demand.
Carole Schaner, age 37, traveled from Ohio to Buffalo to take advantage of this purportedly woman-protective move. Dr. Jesse Ketchum performed a vaginal hysterotomy abortion, which is like a c-section done through the vagina, in order to remove Carole's 14-week fetus and allow it to die. Ketchum preformed this surgery, as the law permitted, in his private office. After the abortion, Carole went into shock, and was taken to a hospital. She was in shock when she arrived. Despite all efforts, Carole died before doctors could even fully assess the extent of her injuries. She left behind four children.

The autopsy found that Carole's cervix and uterus had been cut open, and an artery outside her uterus had been cut. It also noted sutures that had evidently been put in by Ketchum in an attempt to repair the damage. The sutures, however, completely closed Carole's cervix, allowing her to continue bleeding from the injured uterus and artery.

Carole was the second woman to bleed to death after an outpatient hystertomy abortion performed by Ketchum; Margaret Smith had died four months earlier. Interestingly enough, Ketchum had been a criminal abortionist in Michigan, and while he'd been in trouble with the law, none of his patients had died. New York allowed him to set up shop in spite of his Michigan arrests and the unsanitary conditions police had found. So while Michigan police had been able to limit Ketchum's practice by periodically arresting him, New York turned a blind eye to his character, supposedly in the interests of making abortion safer.

Another former criminal abortionist, Milan Vuitch, also had kept his nose clean as a criminal abortionist, then went on to kill two legal abortion patients. Wilma Harris and Georgianna English both died under Vuitch's care. Benjamin Munson, likewise, had a clean record in his criminal abortionist then went on to kill two women in his supposedly safer legal practice -- Linda Padfield and Yvonne Mesteth.

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