Monday, October 19, 2020

October 18: A Criminal Abortion Ring Uncovered in New York, 1942

 On October 18, 1920, 30-year-old homemaker Alice Jolly died at Chicago's Englewood Hospital from a criminal abortion perpetrated by somebody who was never identified.

An investigation two decades later, on the other hand, was much more successful.

On October 18, 1942, 23-year-old Harriet Lichtenberg of Brooklyn died in Royal Hospital, the Bronx, from suspected criminal abortion complications. Harriet, who married a soldier two months earlier, had gone to Dr. Henry Katz, age 51, under the name Hannah Gold on October 10. Katz realized during the abortion that he had injured his patient, and called in a surgeon, who admitted Harriet to the hospital and notified the police. Her mother identified her body after her death.
Katz was identified as the abortionist and pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter in the Bronx County, New York court on June 4, 1943. In court Judge James M. Barrett admitted that Katz' case was one of the most difficult to come before him.

While investigating Harriet's death, the police uncovered an abortion ring involving 21 doctors who were arrested in hospitals, offices, and homes all over the city of New York. They were questioned regarding their involvement in sending patients to Katz, and released pending further action. 

Harriet's abortion was typical of pre-Roe abortions in that it was performed by a physician. 

During the 1940s, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality from abortion. The death toll fell from 1,407 in 1940, to 744 in 1945, to 263 in 1950. Most researches attribute this plunge to the development of blood transfusion techniques and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.

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