Thursday, May 01, 2014

Fatal Abortions in the 1920s: Chicago and Kentucky

The first death we commemorate today is from the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database, so information is scanty. All I have been able to determine is that on May 1, 1925, 26-year-old Mary Sayers died at a Chicago residence from a criminal abortion performed on her that day. Midwife Edna Marie Dietrich was arrested the following day.

Much more information is available, however, about the May 1, 1928 death of Bessie Kouns.

On Saturday, April 14, Dr. T. D. Goodman was called to treat Bessie at her home. He found her in a great deal of pain, with considerable swelling and tenderness of the lower abdomen.Goodman went to see her again on the 15th, 16th, and 17th, but her condition was not improving in spite of treatment, so on the 17th he had her admitted to Stephenson Hospital in Ashland, Kentucky. There, her condition continued to deteriorate. On April 24, the peritonitis had caused bowel obstruction, requiring surgery. Prior to the surgery, which Bessie did not expect to survive, she made a deathbed statement to Dr. Stephenson.

She told him that she had gone to Dr. H.C. Dorroh's office for an abortion. Dorroh had been drinking and didn't at first recognize her. He cussed and told her to get on the table. He approached her with an instrument that he dropped on the floor, then picked up and used on her. He "nearly killed her", Stephenson testified that Bessie said. Stephenson's testimony was supported by Mr. Watt Prichard, who was present at the time Bessie made her declaration.

When the case went to trial, Dorroh insisted that he had treated Bessie in February, but only for gonorrhea, and that the treatment might had caused an abortion had Bessie indeed been pregnant. The expert testimony was that the described treatment would indeed be appropriate for gonorrhea, but testimony was divided on whether it would cause an abortion. Dorroh was convicted, but on appeal got the conviction set aside and a new trial ordered. I have been unable to determine the outcome of the second trial.

No comments: