Tuesday, October 06, 2020

October 6: Two Decades, Two States, Two Doctors Freed

On October 6, 1904, Mrs. Mary Lawson died at Passavant Hospital in Chicago, from complications of a criminal abortion. Dr. Alois Rassmussen, an allopath, was sentenced to fifteen years at Joliet for the murder, but was able to get a new trial. In this second trial, he was acquitted. Note, please, that with issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good. 

Eleanor Haynes, age 22, died of peritonitis at Hackensack Hospital in New Jersey on October 6, 1937. She had been admitted two days earlier by a doctor whose name was not divulged. In a dying statement, Eleanor said that Dr. P. Ralph McFeely had performed an abortion on her in his office on September 25. Eleanor's fiancée claimed no knowledge of an abortion. McFeely, a school and police physician who was also president of the local PTA, said that although he was treating Eleanor for a "minor ailment," he had not performed an abortion. McFeely was not prosecuted due to lack of evidence.  (Newly added sources: "Bogata Physician is Under Arrest," Patterson Morning Call, October 6, 1937; "Grand Jury Acts in Girl's Death," Hackensack Record, November 30, 1937)
During the first half of the 20th century, 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.

Watch Two Doctors, Two Decades on YouTube.

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