Sunday, August 02, 2020

From Illegal in Chicago to Safe and Legal in Akron

Multiple Doctors in Chicago, 1915

Mrs. Stella Cams, age 30, died on August 2, 1915. at Chicago's Lake Shore Hospital. She had been admitted under the name "Mrs. Steele."  She had been sick in July. On the 17th, her husband, Harry Cams, called Dr. Thomas J. Balhatchett to attend to his wife. Balhatchett declared that she was suffering ill effects from an accident and called in Dr. Patrick Mills. Stella didn't speak English, so Mills could not get any information from her. He found Stella to be very ill, and, not liking the situation, left Balhatchett to deal with Stella's care alone.  It was then that Balhatchett called in Dr. G. A. Stetler, who evidently recognized that he was dealing with an abortion case, and that a second surgery was necessary. One of the doctors performed it.

The next day somebody asked a nurse, Jeannette Houston, to provide nursing care. She hadn't been told before arriving that this was an abortion case. She didn't want to stay but did anyway, caring for Stella until her admission to the hospital on July 29. There, Dr. Maximillian Meinhard (hospital owner and/or head of surgery, specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders), declared that Stella was suffering from pneumonia and handed her off to Dr. Charles W. Clark, who, not having been given a medical history also diagnosed Stella with pneumonia.

Stella was to be buried as a pneumonia victim, but Dr. Springer, coroner, had heard vague rumors and decided to perform an autopsy. Concluding that Stella had actually died from a septic abortion, he set an inquest date of August 27 in order to have time to gather evidence.

Meinhart had gotten in abortion-related trouble before. On September 23, 1912, the body of Anna Rice was taken from his home to an undertaking establishment. He told the undertaker, E. I. Harty, that Anna had died of pneumonia. Harty notified the coroner, An inquest was held and the coroner's jury concluded that Anna had died from a botched abortion.  Menhardt was also implicated in 1917 in the abortion death of Emma Melvin.

I've been unable to determine who was ultimately held accountable for Stella's death. (See Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database)

Illegal in Chicago, 1937

Plenz's ad in the 1904 Chicago Tribune
Midwife Sophie Mann and her sister, Dr. Gertrude Plenz, were both indicted in the August 2, 1937 abortion death of 25-year-old Mary Kissell, the divorced mother of a little girl. I can only find snippets about Mary's death. Evidently she went to her family doctor after the abortion. He examined her and sent her to Cook County Hospital on July 17, 1937. She died on August 2.  Sophie, a midwife, preferred instructing her patients to take hot baths, use a hot water bottle on the abdomen, and use a concoction involving vinegar. Dr. Plenz had been implicated in the abortion death of Margaret McCarthy in 1904 and Sarah Cushing in 1905.

Safe and Legal in Akron, 1981

Twenty-seven-year-old Robin Wells, a divorced mother of three children ages 6, 4, and 2, went for a safe and legal abortion under general anesthesia by Max Pierre Gaujean at Akron Center for Reproductive Health on July 15, 1981. Robin went into cardiac arrest in the recovery room, and was transferred by ambulance to a hospital. She remained in a coma until her death on August 2, 1981.

Both Gaujean and the anesthesiologist were independent contractors and did not maintain private practices. The suit filed by Robin's survivors alleged that she was overdosed on anesthesia and not properly monitored. It also alleged that staff at Akron Center for Reproductive Health failed "to resuscitate her after her condition had been discovered." The case was settled out of court.

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