Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Abortion Deaths: What Has Changed?

When 23-year-old Stacy Ruckman had just gotten a new job when she went to Scott Barrett for a safe and legal abortion on February 20, 1988. Unfortunately, she didn't know how he anesthetized his patients at Central Health Center for Women in Springfield, Missouri. Barrett had developed the technique of deliberately overdosing his patients with lidocaine, a local anesthetic, in order to effectively render them unconscious. From time to time, Barrett's assistants said, a woman would stop breathing, but Barrett would be able to resuscitate her. He failed in Stacy's case. Her father requested an autopsy, which found toxic concentrations of Lidocaine in Stacy's blood. An expert who testified later estimated that, based on how fast the body metabolizes Lidocaine, the amount in her system at the time of the abortion could have been as high as 16 ug/ml, over ten times the therapeutic dose.

On February 20, 1927, 23-year-old Angenita Hargarten died in her home from an abortion performed there that day. Midwives Anna Trezek and Frances Raz were held by the coroner, Trezek as the principal and Raz as her accomplice.

Ada Williams, about 27 years old, was living in Denver in early 1916 when she got a letter from her mother in Nebraska. Nearly 50, Ada's mother was going to give birth soon and feared that she might die in childbirth, so she asked Ada to come to her. Ada, pregnant herself, decided to have an abortion before she left in order to facilitate the journey. With her husband, Thomas, she went to Dr. Noble O. Hamilton (pictured) for the abortion. Over the course of several days she sickened, finally taking to her bed, where she labored and delivered a dead three-month fetus. She sent for Hamilton, who wrapped the dead baby in paper and burned it in the stove. He gave aftercare instructions and left. As Ada's condition deteriorated, Hamilton called in another doctor but at kept the abortion a secret from him. This second doctor got Ada to tell him the truth. He admitted her to a hospital, where she died of sepsis the evening of Sunday, February 20. When convicted and sentenced to ten to eleven years, Hamilton swore his innocence.

The Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database indicates that on February 20, 1916, 19-year-old Bertha Carlson died at South Park Hospital in Chicago from complications of a criminal abortion.

Mrs. Ida Prochnow, a 35-year-old German-born homemaker, died in St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Chicago on February 19, 1906, from septicemia caused by an abortion performed earlier that day. Midwife Maggie or Madaline Motgna was arrested in the death.

Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good. In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.

external image MaternalMortality.gif
An inquest was held in the February 20, 1856 death of Catharine DeBreuxal. A witness testified that Catharine suffered "a violent hemorrhage" at Dr. Cobel's house, where she had remained for a few days. The medical examiner concluded that Catharine had died from an infection. "An effort was made by the defense to show that the deceased was a woman's bad character; but the evidence on that point was not admitted on account of its irrevalence." The coroner's jury called for the arrest of Cobel, as well as of Francis Legoupil, as an accessory.

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