Thursday, February 16, 2012

Four Deaths From the Bad Old Days

Today's anniversaries are all pre-legalization deaths, including two unusual deaths: one by a perpetrator whose profession I've been unable to determine, and one self-induced. Most illegal abortions were performed by doctors, with midwifes and nurses and other trained medical professionals taking up almost all of the remainder. Only a few were performed by laypersons, and most of them still had some training and backup from a physician. Though self-induced abortions were rare, they were the most dangerous, and thus would account for a higher proportion of deaths.

On February 16, 1890, Mrs. Mary Keegan died from complications of an illegal abortion performed that day. Mary died at the location where the abortion was performed. Mrs. Annie Schneider was arrested and held by the Coroner's Jury. Mrs. Schneider is described as employed in an unidentified profession.

On February 16, 1918, 34-year-old Helen Noah, a homemaker, died in at Presbyterian Hospital in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The autopsy concluded that she had performed a self-induced abortion using a catheter. She died of septicemia.

On February 16, 1925, 28-year-old homemaker Agnes Crowe died in Chicago's West Side Hospital from a criminal abortion performed that day. The coroner indicated that a female midwife was responsible for Agnes' death, but did not name the guilty party.

On February 16, 1929, Mrs. Ruth Weir, of East Orange, New Jersey, died at Orange Memorial Hospital of sepsis contracted through a criminal abortion. Dr. Maurice Sturm was arrested when Ruth implicated him in a deathbed statement. Sturm admitted to performing the abortion, but insisted that it had not been illegal because it was necessary to save Ruth's life. The District Attorney claimed that Sturm failed to keep proper records, including concealing names and appointments of patients. Sturm, who was later acquitted of the manslaughter charge in Ruth's death, alleged during his trial that a judge had demanded bribe money from him to dismiss the case, but that $1000 he had given the judge was a gift and not part of the bribe money.

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