Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Different Circumstances, Same Outcome

Contrary to the popular coathanger image, abortion-minded women have the capacity to look out for their own well being. In the days before legalization, they had sense enough to look for somebody with some sort of experience -- typically a physician.

But then, just as today, the fact that an abortion is being done by a physician doesn't mean that it won't cost the woman her life.

In early 1916, two women lay dying at Mercy Hospital in Denver. Police and doctors concluded that both women were suffering from abortions perpetrated by Dr. Bennett Graff at his offices at the Panama rooming house there in Denver, where he had his offices. Ruth Camp, whose abortion had been perpetrated on January 27, died on February 2. The second woman, 24-year-old Beulah Hatch, lingered until February 18. Ruth had come to Denver from Medicine Bow, Wyoming, on a visit. Her husband, a rancher, had wanted the baby. A friend of the family found out about Ruth's plans and sent him a telegraph. Mr. Camp had to drive 45 miles just to catch a train to Denver, arriving too late.

Graff insisted during the trial that a woman named Mrs. Fitch had called him to the boarding house, where he'd found Ruth ailing. He said Mrs. Fitch had accompanied him and Ruth to his office for an examination and "found that it was necessary to operate upon her, which he did." Had the jury believed his story they would have acquitted him. Graff was found guilty of murder in Ruth's death, and sentenced to 11 - 13 years in prison.

Though many women, as they lay dying, would protect other women by naming the abortionists who had fatally injured them, some took the secret to their graves. On February 2, 1926, Alberta Handy, a 38-year-old Black woman, died of a botched abortion in Chicago. The perpetrator was never caught. 

Even after legalization, abortions still can go wrong.

Elizabeth Tsuji, a 21-year-old Cal State student, underwent a safe and legal 8-week abortion at a local Planned Parenthood on November 11, 1977. She called the clinic in December to report that she was still not menstruating, but staff assured her that the abortion had been successful. On February 1, 1978, Elizabeth confirmed that she was indeed still pregnant, five months along. The Planned Parenthood clinic referred her to Inglewood General Hospitalnear Los Angeles for a saline abortion. That evening, she packed a nightgown and told her family she was going to spend the night at a friend's house. That was the last time they saw her alive.

Elizabeth underwent the abortion on February 2, and died that day. Two autopsies were performed, neither of which could find a definitive cause of the young woman's death. Abortionist Morton Barke was somehow involved, although documents aren't clear what his role was in her death. Barke also worked at the unsavory San Vicente Hospital. He is known to have been a partner at Inglewood and to have been involved in the deaths of Yvonne Tanner and Lynette Wallace. His involvement might have been that he served in a supervisory role. The other women who met their deaths at Inglewood include Kathy MurphyCora Lewis, and Belinda Byrd.

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