Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day, 1972, Courtesy of Kermit and Harvey

The Jane syndicate in Chicago was doing a thriving criminal abortion business. They were also under intense police surveillance. They knew Harvey Karman, whom they had invited to Chicago to teach them the menstrual extraction early-abortion technique. His boundless enthusiasm for abortion had endeared him to them, to the point where when one former Jane member wrote about their experiences, she immortalized Harvey with the bodice-ripper hero Pseudonym Jordan Bennett.

Harvey Karman, c. 1972
Harvey fancied himself a doctor, and even awarded himself a Ph.D. from an imaginary university in Europe in order to identify himself as "Dr. Karman." Actually, he was a dropout from the UCLA school of theatrical arts. But what did that matter? Harvey didn't have much of an education, but he had limitless chutzpah and an unflagging enthusiasm for abortion. The pro-choice movement embraced him without ever checking his credentials. Harvey's background was checkered, to say the least. His rap sheet included nine felonies in Los Angeles County alone, with a lot of those arrests connected to his budding career as an abortionist. He had managed to kill one Joyce Johnson by performing an illegal abortion on her with a nutcracker in a hotel room. He was sent to prison for this little escapade, but was pardoned by Jerry Brown when he became Governor.

A prison record seems to be more of a badge of honor than a stain of shame for an abortionist, because after his release Harvey's career really took off. Harvey ingratiated himself to the administration of a new California abortion hospital after that state legalized, and he set up an experimental program using "super coils," which were plastic springs inserted into the uterus to cause an abortion.

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell
When the Jane ring was raided, those members who hadn't been arrested scrambled to find abortionists for the scheduled patients. They approached Harvey, and he agreed to try his "super coils" on the Jane customers. He made arrangements to use the facilities of Dr. Kermit Gosnell's openly operating criminal abortion facility in Philadelphia. Jane chartered a bus to take the women to Pennsylvania.

On Mother's Day of 1972, the bus load of Jane clients arrived in Philadelphia.

It was a circus. Karman had invited a public television station in New York to send a film crew. Local feminists, who did not share Jane's enthusiasm for Harvey, protested outside. Harvey and Gosnell started packing the women with "super coils," which were sharp plastic springs. Outside, the protesters were letting the air out of the bus tires.

Keeping sloppy records, working well into the night, the pair of abortionists managed to pack the 15 patients selected for "super coil" abortions by the early morning hours. One woman ended up hospitalized in Pennsylvania due to lacerations. Others needed to be hospitalized upon return to Chicago. Local health authorities contacted the Centers for Disease Control, which investigated and found that two of the patients had been lost to follow-up, one required a hysterectomy, one was hospitalized for twenty days with infection, and one continued to bleed until she became anemic. In total, nine of the 13 patients who could be tracked down had suffered complications.

The CDC suggested that, "Until the super-coil abortion technique is demonstrated to be safe in the hands of competent medical personnel and in a controlled research setting, the CDC findings suggest that it is not appropriate for use by paramedical personnel."

Meanwhile, Harvey returned to California and continued to get arrested for running illegal abortion clinics and performing menstrual extractions. After Roe v. Wade, Harvey faded away into obscurity and oblivion. Gosnell, well he continued his abortion quackerly until a drug raid in 2010 revealed a "house or horrors" that Pennsylvania authorities had allowed to operate in filth and callousness, just as Arlen Specter had allowed Gosnell to partner with Harvey Karman nearly 40 years earlier.

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