Sunday, January 31, 2016

Would a Law Have Saved Margaret? What About Gwendolyn?

Many criminal abortion deaths leave behind the mystery: Who was the perpetrator? On January 25, 1915, Dr. E. M. Ullrich of Brooklyn, was called in to attend to 20-year-old Margaret Bereis of Ridgewood, New York. He found her with a high fever. The next day he consulted with Dr. Jensen concerning Margaret's high fever. They concurred that she was suffering from septicemia. Ullrich continued to care for her until her death on January 31, filling out her death certificate attributing her death to peritonitis and blood poisoning brought on by an abortion.

We can speculate about whether Margaret would have found a more skilled practitioner had abortion been legal, but in any event, infection is a known abortion complication. It is also a complication that was extremely difficult to treat in 1915, with the development of penicillin more than a decade in the future and widespread use of antibiotics still two world wars away.

After legalization, according to theory, unskilled or careless abortion practitioners would be replaced by reputable doctors, and women would no longer needlessly die. However, even before the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision struck down all US abortion laws in 1973, women were already starting to die needlessly from the purportedly safe legal abortions.

Fifteen-year-old Gwendolyn Drummer was a student at Harry Ellis High in Richmond, California, when she was admitted to Doctor's Hospital of Pinole for a safe and legal abortion, to be performed January 28, 1972. Her doctor chose the saline abortion methodThese abortions are performed by replacing amniotic fluid with a strong salt solution. 

In the decades after WWII, as the antibiotics that likely could have saved Margaret Bereis became available, the saline abortion method was being abandoned in countries where abortion was legal.  A British study published in 1966 found that the saline could enter the mother's bloodstream and cause brain damage. Swedish researchers noticed an unacceptably high rate of complications and deaths. Sweden and the Soviet Union followed Japan in abandoning saline abortion as too dangerous by the late 1960s.

But as laws loosened up in the US, American doctors adopted the saline abortion method. So in 1972, with over a decade of warning not to do so, Gwendolyn's doctor injected saline into her uterus. It got into her blood stream, just as British, Japanese, Soviet, and Swedish doctors had repeatedly warned it could do. Gwendolyn suffered organ damage. She subsequently developed pneumonia, and died on January 31.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Two Fatal Examples of Common Criminal Abortions

Research by both Planned Parenthood and scholar Nancy Howell Lee into pre-legalization abortion practice found that most abortion-minded women availed themselves of the services of physicians. The second most common kind of illegal abortionist, Lee found in her probing, was a non-physician with medical training such as a nurse, midwife, or dentist. Today's anniversaries provide common examples.

In late January of 1904, Estella "Stella" Murgatroyd lay ailing at the home of her parents just outside Jacksonville, Illinois. Her father, F. E. Murgatroyd, said that Stella had left home on the afternoon of Thursday, January 21, and had returned home at around 5 p.m. She began to develop a fever the next day at around noon. After that she began to get chills and seemed seriously ill. Mr. M had asked several times if he could summon a doctor for her, but she refused. Finally he'd summoned Dr. J. A. Day without Stella's consent. He consulted with Dr. Frank P. Norburg and Dr. F. J. Pitner. The two men were suspicious so they questioned Stella pointedly. She made a declaration just before her death on January 30, witnessed by Frank P. Norburg and Dr. Day:

"I, Miss Estella Murgatroyd, a single (unmarried) lady, 27 years of age, do hereby, and in the presence of witnesses, solemnly declare that I was [pregnant by John Pate] and on Jan. 2, 1904, about 2:30 o/clock p.m., Dr. W. C. Manley operated upon me at his office in Jacksonville. I furthermore declare that upon the morning of Jan. 24, 1904, Dr. J. A. Day was called to attend me and he afterwards on the same day called and consulted with Dr. L. P. Norburg over my condition. I declare furthermore that Dr. L. P. Lorburg and J. A. Day had no association whatever in the operation." The three doctors who cared for Stella signed a death certificate giving her cause of death as "septic endocarditis and peritonitis." The post-mortem examination verified the cause of death as abortion complications.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, abortion practice thrived in Chicago, with midwives and doctors placing thinly-veiled ads for abortions in newspapers. On January 30, 1912, 21-year-old Jeanette Mebzarek died in Chicago from an abortion perpetrated by nurse/midwife Anna Chezanowaki that same day. Chezanowaki was indicted by a Grand Jury on February 15, but the case never went to trial.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Medical Practitioners' Dead Patients: 1858, 1883, and 1936

Death at the Doctor's House

On Friday, January 29, 1858, Mahitable Ash got a telegram telling her to come to the Bradford, Vermont home of Dr. William Howard. Her daughter, Olive, was terribly ill. Mahitable quickly complied, and was there when her daughter died at about 6 in the evening. Dr. Howard got a coffin for Olive, and her mother and twin sister, Olive, took her body by train to Sutton. On February 3, Olive's body was exhumed for an autopsy, which was performed the following day. The cause of Olive's death was obvious. There was a quantity of pus and her cervix was nearly ragged with injuries. Dr. Frost believed that Olive had hemorrhageddue to the damage to her cervix. Another physician examined the uterus and concluded that the placenta had been retained for some time after the abortion, perhaps as long as seven to ten days. Howard was charged with abortion and manslaughter for Olive's death -- as well as for the abortion death of another patient, Miss Young, two days before Olive had died.

Olivia testified that she had traveled with her sister to Howard's home for the express purpose of the abortion. She had sat on the bed and held Olive's hand, day after day, through the three agonizing abortion attempts Howard made using instruments of some kind. Olive passed fluid at first, then blood, and finally a dead fetus approximately two-thirds the size of a normal newborn, Olivia said. Others at the house gave corroborating testimony, including one young woman who had caught one of the household dogs with a fetus of around 4 or 5 months of gestation that it had dug up from under the outhouse. Another dog grabbed the fetus and ran off with it, so it was never recovered.

Howard's defense relied upon a couple of expert witnesses giving other theories to explain the condition of Olive's uterus and cervix other than efforts to abort a living fetus. The jury convicted him of the abortion but found him not guilty of Olive's resulting death from the abortion.

On the Way Home

On January 29, 1883, a Chicago widow named Adeline Savroch died in a carriage on the way home from having a criminal abortion performed by midwife Bertha Twachaus, who was held without bail for murder in Adeline's death. A saloon keeper named Julius Grosse, and his housekeeper, Celia Arlep, were held as accessories.

To Save Her Life?

Rose Lipner, age 32, mother of 2, died at Riverdale Hospital on January 29, 1936. Rose was buried the next day at Mount Judah Cemetery in Cypress Hills, New York. After the funeral, several people, including an anonymous caller, notified police and the District Attorney's office that the death was suspicious, and Rose was exhumed for an autopsy. The medical examiner determined that Rose had died from an abortion. 

Dr. Maxwell C. Katz, who owned and lived at Riverdale (maternity) Hospital, which he operated, signed a death certificate indicating that Rose had been operated on there for a tumor. Katz was arraigned for second-degree manslaughter. During his trial, his defense brought forth a large number of character witnesses testifying to Katz's 25 years as a physician and his good reputation. Katz did admit to performing an abortion on Rose, but said that it was in an attempt to save her life. The defense was successful, and he was acquitted.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Typical and Atypical Abortion Deaths Around the Country

Early 20th Century Chicago

Chicago at this time was a hospitable environment for illegal abortionists, and women readily availed themselves of the many physicians and midwives who took up the trade. Two examples from this date, one year apart, were found in online records.

On January 28, 1911, 18-year-old homemaker Lillie Hirst died in Chicago from septicemia caused by an abortion that had been perpetrated less than a week prior. Dr. Aldrich and Mrs. Treshelling were held by the Coroner's Jury and indicted, but the case never went to trial.

On January 28, 1912, 28-year-old homemaker Mary Balogh, an immigrant from Hungary, died at the practice of midwife Anna Klickner from an abortion perpetrated the previous day. Klickner was arrested at the scene but escaped. She was captured on November 26 and indicted on December 15. The case never went to trial for reasons I have been unable to determine.

Mid 20th Century Chicago

There are fewer readily available records for Chicago abortion deaths in the middle of the 20th century. Odds are that practice in Chicago would be at least similar to the nationwide pattern of the vast majority of illegal abortions being perpetrated by physicians.

Lavern Perez, age 22, died at her home in Chicago on January 28, 1943. Dr. Henry Gross, age 58, was found guilty of manslaughter by abortion. The prosecution presented Gross as having a dual personality. Gross had a respectable medical practice. However, after a Dr. Ira Willits died, Gross set up shop in Willits's old office as an abortionist under Willit's name. It was at this office, Lavern's mother-in-law, Olga Perez, testified, that Lavern's fatal abortion was perpetrated. Mrs. Perez said that Lavern had paid an office attendant $60 for the abortion. The day after Lavern died, Mrs. Perez said, Dr. Gross appeared at her home with a gun, which he used to threaten both her and her son. They wrestled the gun away from him, whereupon he begged for the weapon back so he could kill himself. Gross had insisted that he'd only been treating Lavern for a cold. However, he was also investigated for the February 20, 1943 abortion death of Dorothy Webber, age 20.

Pittsburgh, PA, Early 20th Century

My primary information about abortion deaths for this time and place are through coroner records. Interestingly, the Pittsburgh area's abortion culture seemed to lean toward self-induced abortions despite the presence of physician-abortionists.

On January 28, 1918, 27-year-old Annabella Lewis, a homemaker, died in at West Penn Hospital in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The autopsy concluded that she had performed a self-induced abortion using slippery elm bark. She had told her husband, Albert, about the abortion, but had denied even being ill to anybody else until her admission to the hospital

Possible Lay Abortionist, Virginia, 1947

Though the overwhelming majority of illegal abortions were done by doctors, and a large percent of the rest done by people with either formal or informal medical training, there were a small number of lay abortionists. This case, I believe, is an example, since the guilty party's profession is never mentioned in any documents I've found about the case.

Sometime in early January, 1947, Iva Rodeffer Davis Coffman performed an abortion on Kerneda Bennett, resulting in her death on January 28. Kerneda, though living with her husband in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was pregnant as a result of an extramarital affair. She asked her friend, Irene Davis, to help her arrange an abortion. The two of them visited Coffman at her home at Mt. Crawford, near Harrisonburg. Coffman took Kerneda into a bedroom. "When they came out," according to legal records, "Mrs. Coffman told Mrs. Bennett to come back if nothing had happened in fourteen days, and if anything was said about why they were there to say they came to have a dress made."

About two weeks later, on January 27, Kerneda "had not had the result expected," asked Irene to contact Coffman again. The two of them took a taxi back to Coffman's home about 7:30 on the evening of January 28. While the taxi was waiting, Coffman took Kerneda back into the bedroom. About fifteen or twenty minutes later Irene thought she heard something fall. A few minutes later, Coffman told her that Kerneda had fainted and asked her to come back to the bedroom. Irene found Kerneda lying, groaning, face-down on the floor beside the bed, dressed except for her shoes and coat. 

Coffman seemed very nervous and said that they needed to get Kerneda to a hospital. Irene summoned the taxi driver, who carried Kerneda out to the cab. Kerneda, who had been nearly lifeless when loaded into the taxi, was dead on arrival at the hospital.

That night Coffman's home was searched, but nothing of evidential value was found. Coffman told the sheriff that Kerneda had asked to use the bathroom, and was shown to the bedroom, and asked for a glass of water. Coffman said she'd brought Kerneda the water, which she had used to wash down two pills from her purse, joking that they were poison. A few minutes later, Coffman said, Kerneda fell onto the floor.

The Harrisonburg/Rockingham County coroner, Dr. Byers, performed the autopsy assisted by Dr. Hill. They found no evidence of external injuries except for a small genital scratch. A piece of tissue from the placenta was in the cervix, a small blood clot was in the vagina, and the uterus was in place, appearing at first to be a normal pregnant uterus with no signs of injury. Upon removing the uterus, the doctors noted a sensation as if the organ contained air. They opened the uterus and found an intact pregnancy with a fetus of about three to four months of gestation. Byers concluded that an abortion had been attempted, which had caused a fatal air embolism. After the embolism killed Kerneda, the baby died as well. He based the embolism diagnosis on the crepitation (feeling as if air was present) of the uterus. Coffman was convicted of performing the fatal abortion and incarcerated to serve a five year sentence. 
1974 Los Angeles: Another Black Victim of Abortion

Evangeline McKenna, a Louisiana native, was 38 years old when she checked into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles for an abortion and tubal ligation. Two days after the procedure, she had a seizure. She stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. Doctors told the family that Evanegline was brain dead, but they held out hope and asked that she be put on life support. On January 28, 1974, after twelve days on life support, Evangeline was pronounced dead. She left behind five children.

Evangeline's death, in addition to being a tragedy for her family and loved ones, also highlights the disproportionate damage that legal abortion causes among Blacks in the United States. Though black women are only 13% of the female population in the US, and though they are more likely than white women to oppose abortion, they account for a full 35% of legal abortions reported. Black women, like Evangeline, also account for fully 50% of reported legal abortion deaths.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

1987: Assembly-Line Abortion Fatal for California Mother of Three

An old B&W photo of a smiling young Black woman with hair coiffed smooth and thick.
Belinda Byrd
On January 24, 1987, 37-year-old Belinda Byrd had a safe and legal abortion performed by Stephen Pine at Inglewood Women's Hospital in Los Angeles, California. Belinda was left unattended for three hours after the abortion, and was found unresponsive. Staff at Inglewood delayed an additional two hours before transferring her to a hospital with appropriate emergency services.

Belinda was one of 74 women who had abortions in Inglewood's single operating room that day, and one of 24 whose abortions were performed in the final two hours of the day. Belinda remained comatose until her death on January 27.

Belinda's mother wrote to a Los Angeles district attorney:
  • I am the mother of Belinda Byrd, victim of abortionists at [Inglewood]. I am also the grandmother of her three young children who are left behind and motherless. I cry every day when I think how horrible her death was. She was slashed by them and then she bled to death ... and nobody cares. I know that other young black women are now dead after abortion at that address. ... Where is [the abortionist] now? Has he been stopped? Has anything happened to him because of what he did to my Belinda? Has he served jail time for any of these cruel deaths? People tell me nothing has happened, that nothing ever happens to white abortionists who leave young black women dead. I'm hurting real bad and want some justice for Belinda and all other women who go like sheep to slaughter.

In the wake of the series of abortion deaths at Inglewood, the authorities inspected the place. Among other things, they caught an abortionist writing post-operative examination notes without even examining the patients. When the state closed Inglewood for numerous violations, the facility simply re-opened as Inglewood Women's Clinic; as a clinic rather than a hospital they were no longer subject to the same intense scrutiny and were able to remain in business.

Other women known to have died after abortions at the Inglewood facility include Kathy MurphyCora LewisLynette Wallace, and Elizabeth Tsuji.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fatal Abortions Performed by Doctors in 1920, 1990, and 2001

On January 26, 1920, 24-year-old Lydia Swanson, daughter of Swedish immigrants, died at Chicago's Post Graduate Hospital from an abortion perpetrated by Dr.Rosa GollnickLydia had developed septic inflammation of both lungs. Gollnick was arrested on January 27 and went to trial, but was acquitted on June 18.

Ingar Weber, age 28, died January 26, 1990, in a Louisiana hospital. She had been treated for acute kidney failure after a safe and legal abortion performed at Delta Women's Clinic in Baton Rouge on January 20, 1990. Ingar's family sued the clinic and its doctors, Richardson P. Glidden and Thomas Booker. They faulted the doctors with failing to diagnose Ingar's kidney problems, or her deteriorating physical condition, before, during, or after the abortion. Delta had also been sued following the death of another abortion patient. This woman was most likely 27-year-old Sheila Hebert, who died after an abortion on June 6, 1984.

On January 22, 2001, 19-year-old Melissa Heim went to Access Health Center in Downers Grove, Illinois.She was given "twilight anesthesia" with a drug cocktail including Versed, Fentanyl, and Brevital for a safe, legal abortion, which started at about 11:45 a.m. and was finished at about noon. After the abortion, she was moved to the recovery area, where she went into cardio-respiratory arrest about half an hour later. An ambulance was summoned, and Melissa was resuscitated by the paramedics, but due to the brain injury she had suffered, she died on January 26. Her survivors filed suit against Access, doctors Victor Espinosa and Alfonso Del Granado, and nurse Pat Hurt, holding that they had failed to monitor her properly in recovery and failed to resuscitate her quickly enough to save her life.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Back Alley Butchery Thriving in New York

Snapshot of a brightly smiling young white woman with short, dark-blond hair. She is evidently at some kind of party.
Alexandra Nunez
Alexandra Nunez was a 37-year-old single mom from New Jersey. On January 25, 2010, 37-year-old Alexandra Nunez told her family that she was going to a doctor's office in Newark for a procedure to remove a cyst. Instead she went to A1 Medicine in Jackson Heights, Queens for an abortion. She was 16 or 17 weeks pregnant. The abortion was performed at 3:30 p.m. By the end of the day, Alexandra was at Elmhurst Hospital Center, dead from hemorrhage.

Her 19-year-old daughter, Daisy Davila, told the New York Daily News, "I'm upset because I never got a chance to say goodbye. She didn't want anyone to go with her. I made dinner and lunch ,,, hoping she would come back."

Eventually the medical board concluded that the doctor responsible for Alexandra's death was Robert F. Hosty. He had no hospital affiliation and hadn't taken any continuing medical education training since 2004.

Because of Alexandra's obstetric history, which included two c-sections, and the location of the placenta, Hosty should have known that it was unsafe to proceed with an abortion in an outpatient setting. Catastrophic complications are to be predicted, and the doctor must be certain that there is an adequate supply of blood for a possible transfusion, and a fully equipped operating room nearby in case an emergency hysterectomy is needed.

As a prudent physician would have suspected, the placenta had implanted deeply into the area of Alexandra's uterus that had been scarred by the prior surgery.

After the abortion, Alexandra began to bleed uncontrollably. Rather than seek the cause of the bleeding, Hosty administered medications, then stood by and did nothing while a nurse anesthetist intubated Alexandra and began providing oxygen. Nobody summoned an ambulance until over 45 minutes after blood began pouring out of Alexandra's body.

Paramedics arrived to find Alexandra still on the procedure table in stirrups, cold and gray and for all appearances already dead. Blood was still draining from her body into a pool on the floor. The only monitoring instrument in place was a pulse oximeter. The nurse anesthetist was administering oxygen, and because she was the only one who seemed to know what was going on, the emergency responders assumed that she was the physician. Nobody else was assisting the patient in any way.

The paramedics began a futile attempt to resuscitate Alexandra, but she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

A1 was an ambulatory surgical facility doing abortions and plastic surgery. They employed Hosty even though he had already allowed a gynecological patient to die by triggering massive bleeding then utterly failing to provide any effective lifesaving care.

1891: Notorious San Francisco Abortionist Finds Her Home in Chicago

On January 23, 1891, saloon keeper Joseph Hoffman summoned Dr. Dietrich to Shaeffer's Hotel in Chicago to tend to an ailing woman, 23-year-old Minnie DeeringDietrich prescribed an oral medication and an alcohol and carbolic acid solution to be externally applied. The following day, Hoffman summoned Dr. Detrich and reported that he'd mixed up the medications and given Minnie the carbolic acid orally by mistake. Detrich and another doctor pumped Minnie's stomach and administered counter measures but to no avail. She died on January 25.

News clipping headshot of a grim-looking white woman, just past middle age, wearing wire rim glasses and a dark-colored sailor-style hat and collar
Lucy Hagenow
Even though this meant implicating himself in a crime, Hoffman told the doctors that he and Minnie had secretly married and had secretly come to the city to procure the services of an abortion doctor he referred to as "Mrs. Hageman." The coroner's jury concluded that ultimately Minnie had died because of the abortion since it had started the chain of events that led to her death. However, they did not conclusively determine that Hagenow herself had perpetrated it. They ordered her held to a grand jury pending further investigation and Hagenow was arrested.

Hagenow, a prolific abortionist who had fled prosecution after the deaths of abortion patients in San Francisco, evidently had found a welcoming new home in Chicago. Her attorney, John C. King, requested a writ to get Hagenow released. Judge Tuthill "readily granted it, saying that the verdict was an admission and an exhibition of ignorance, and that Mrs. Hagenow should not have spent an hour in jail."

Tuthill thus released Hagenow to ply her trade in Chicago. She was subsequently implicated in more than a dozen subsequent abortion deaths: Sophia Kuhn, Emily Anderson, Hannah Carlson, Marie Hecht, May Putnam, Lola Madison, Annie Horvatich, Lottie Lowy, Nina H. Pierce, Jean Cohen, Bridget Masterson,  Elizabeth Welter, and Mary Moorehead.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Abortion-Friendly Chicago, 1913-1944

News clipping photo of a woman past middle age, wearing wire-rim glasses and a dark-colored sailor-style hat and collar
Lucy Hagenow
Chicago was such an abortion-friendly environment during the days before legalization that one abortionist, Dr. Lucy Hagenow, fled to Chicago to avoid prosecution after a string of abortion deaths connected to her in San Francisco. Though she was linked to over a dozen abortion deaths in Chicago, she spent little time in prison and would quickly pick up her instruments again when released. She said, in a jailhouse interview while awaiting one trial, the city abortionists greased the wheels for their freedom with lots of cash doled out strategically.

As was the case nationwide before legalization, the majority of Chicago's illegal abortionists were midwives or physicians, though there were the occasional lay abortionists such as Katherine Bajda, identified as a homemaker in the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database. Despite not being a medical professional, Bajda benefited from Chicago's catch-and-release system of dealing with deadly abortionists.

On January 23, 1929, 22-year-old Edna Vargo died in Chicago from an abortion performed that day, Katherine Bajda was held by the Coroner on February 14. On March 15, she was indicted for felony murder in Edna's death. Three days later, while free to ply her trade, Bajda got caught with 25-year-old abortion patient Violet Diancalana dead in her home.

Another Chicago midwife who evidently entered the abortion business was  Caroline OrbachOn January 23, 1913, 32-year-old homemaker Margaret Wagner died at Post Graduate Hospital in Chicago from septic infection caused by an abortion perpetrated on January 9. Orbach was held by the Coroner on January 24. The case went to trial but Orbach was acquitted on November 25 for reasons I have been unable to determine. Another case played out similarly the following year. On January 23, 1914, 17-year-old Helen Kleich, who worked as a domestic servant, died at Cook County Hospital from sepsis, arising from an abortion perpetrated on January 17 and attributed to midwife Margared Wiedemann. Wiedemann was held by the Coroner for murder by abortion, but was acquitted, again, for reasons I've been unable to determine.

Blame is a bit fuzzier regarding a death on January 23, 1925. Thirty-four-year-old Kate Radochouski died at Chicago's Lakeside Hospital from complications of an abortion performed that day. The Homicide in Chicago database says that she died at the scene of the crime, which is likely to be an error, and that there was an arrest on February 11. However, there is no name given for the person arrested. I have been unable to identify the perpetrator.

Portrait of a young woman with dark hair worn in a 1940s style
Geraldine Schuyler
A clear perpetrator was found in the January 23, 1944 death of 20-year-old Geraldine Schuyler. Geraldine was working as a secretary at Matthewson Electric Company in Chicago when she learned that she was pregnant in January of 1944. She turned to her mother, Leah Schuyler, who went with her on Monday, January 17 to meet Mrs. Avis Konradt at the corner of 41st Street and Drexel Boulevard. 

Konradt took them to the home of George E. Fosberg, a physician whose license had been revoked when he'd gone to prison for bank fraud. Mrs. Schuyler paid Fosberg $100, and he took Geraldine into the basement for the abortion.

Geraldine became seriously ill the night of Saturday, January 22, and was quickly taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. Less than half an hour later, she was dead.

News clipping headshot of a white man just past middle age, with very short hair, large ears, and a pose as though looking into the distance
Mrs. Schuyler told the police what had happened and led them to Fosberg's home, where police found him "in the dusty basement of the house, walking thru stacks of his old records as a physician." The police confiscated seven sets of surgical instruments. Evidently, they were able to accumulate quite a plethora of evidence, because Fosberg was convicted of manslaughter for Geraldine's death.

It's interesting to note that during this period, during the first half of the 20th century, maternal deaths from all causes, including criminal abortions, were falling. Improved nutrition, sanitation, and medical care were rapidly improving women's chances of surviving pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth long before states started loosening up abortion laws in the late 1960s. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

From Criminal in Chicago to Erstwhile Criminal in Texas

Criminal Chicago: Two Habitually Deadly Female Doctors

On January 22, 1900, Mrs. Barbara Shelgren, age 25, died at Augustana Hospital in Chicago of an abortion performed that day. Paulina Bechtel, identified as a midwife in the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database, was arrested and held by Coroner's Jury and indicted of homicide by a grand jury, but the case was thrown out by Judge Holdom. Bechtel was tried in the October 3, 1895 abortion death of Mrs. Kittie Bassett. She was implicated in the abortion death of Ida Henry in 1900, but was identified as a physician in that case. According to Leslie Reagan, author of When Abortion Was a Crime, it was common for female physicians to be misidentified as midwives. Therefore I am going to assume that Bechtel was indeed a doctor. Bechtel went on to kill Mary Thorning in 1911.

A bespectacled woman, past middle-age, staring intently into the camera. She wears a dark sailor-style hat and collar.
Lucy Hagenow
On January 22, 1925, 17-year-old homemaker Jean Cohen, a Connecticut native, died at Chicago's Montrose Hospital from an abortion performed earlier that day. On January 31, Louise Hagenow was arrested in Jean's death. However, Hagenow, though a known abortionist, was for some reason cleared in Jean's death. Hagenow, who had already been implicated of the abortion deaths of Louise Derchow, Annie DorrisAbbia Richards, and Emma Dep in San Francisco, relocated to Chicago, which as Hagenow later noted was more corrupt and thus a more genial environment for criminal abortionists. There she was connected to over a dozen abortion deaths, including  Minnie Deering, Sophia Kuhn , Emily Anderson, Hannah Carlson, Marie HechtMay Putnam, Lola Madison, Annie Horvatich, Lottie Lowy, Nina H. Pierce, Bridget Masterson, Elizabeth Welter, and Mary MooreheadHagenow was typical of criminal abortionists in that she was a physician.

Pre-Roe Legal in California

In June of 1967, then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed a bill legalizing abortion in California. The earlier law, passed in 1861, had allowed abortion only if intended to save the mother's life. The 1967 law allowed abortions in case of the mother's physical or mental health or for young teens pregnant through rape or incest. The mental health provision essentially allowed abortion on demand, since the woman could simply assert that she would kill herself were she not permitted the abortion. Abortions had to be performed by qualified physicians in an accredited hospital and could only be performed up to 20 weeks. The bill also allowed the establishment of dedicated abortion hospitals.

One of the purported beneficiaries of the new law was 26-year-old Kathryn StrongOn January 21, 1972, she went to Civic Center Hospital in Oakland, California for a legal abortion that was to be performed by Dr. Harold Van Maren. I have not been able to determine the grounds for Kathryn's abortion. During the procedure, her uterus was perforated. According to her medical records, she suffered extensive hemorrhage and shock. She died the following day, leaving behind a three-year-old son. It's difficult to judge if Kathryn's death was due to malpractice, since perforation was a known complication which could happen even if the abortion were performed with care, but, of course, could also be caused by carelessness. 

A Former Criminal Abortionist Goes Safe and Legal in Texas

 The January 22, 1980 death of 22-year-old Vanessa Preston seems to be a clear case of "all surgery has risks."  National Abortion Federationmember Curtis Boyd  had started his abortion practice illegally in the 1960s, During the abortion, Vanessa suffered multiple vaginal punctures -- not the kind of injury likely to prove fatal. However, before Boyd could remove the placenta, Vanessa went into a grand mal siezure and then into cardiac arrest.

Headshot of a very earnest-looking bearded and bespectacled white man, past middle age
Curtis Boyd
To the credit of Boyd and the Fairmount staff, emergency procedures were immediately instituted. They summoned an ambulance and made appropriate and effective effects at resuscitation while waiting for EMS. During exploratory surgery at the hospital, during which 24 units of blood were administered to try to stop her circulatory system from collapsing, Vanessa died. An autopsy revealed that Vanessa's uncontrollable bleeding had been caused by an amniotic fluid embolism (AFE - amniotic fluid in the mother's bloodstream) and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC - a blood clotting disorder) during the abortion. When Boyd's staff resuscitated Vanessa, they caused a small laceration of her liver. This is typical in even properly performed CPR, and is not usually life-threatening. 

However, because of the DIC, Vanessa's blood couldn't clot, and she bled to death from the liver laceration. Since second-trimester evacuation abortions were still new at the time, Boyd and his staff didn't realize that there was a risk of DIC. To Boyd's credit, he reported Vanessa's death to the Centers for Disease Control and wrote a medical journal article warning other abortion practitioners that DIC could occur during second-trimester evacuation abortions.