Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pre-Roe: Chicago and California

A Typical Criminal Abortion, Chicago, 1909

On April 13, 1909, Stella Kelly, a 28-year-old waitress, died of septicemia at a hospital in Chicago, from an abortion that had been perpetrated around March 5. Louise Actenberg, age 59, sometimes identified as a doctor and sometimes as a midwife, was charged with murder by abortion by a coroner's jury. 

Achtenberg was also implicated in the 1907 abortion death of Dora Swan, the 1909 abortion death of Florence Wright, the 1920 abortion death of Violet McCormick, and the 1924 death of Madelyn Anderson. I can find no record that she was ever incarcerated, which is hardly surprising, given how hospitable Chicago has typically been to the many doctors and midwives who perpetrated abortions in the city.

Safe and Legal in California, 1968

Stella Saenz, age 42, had arranged for a legal abortion in the spring of 1968. At that time, California allowed legal abortions, but only in hospitals. On April 11, she was admitted to Los Angeles County General Hospital with sepsis. Doctors administered penicillin. Stella went into anaphylactic shock; neither she nor the doctors had realized that Stella was allergic to penicillin. Doctors tried to treat both the infection and Stella's reaction to the penicillin, to no avail. She died on April 13. The California Department of Public Health classified Stella's death as both a drug reaction death and a legal abortion death.

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