Thursday, June 30, 2022

June 30, 1982: Teen's Death Counted by State as Illegal Abortion

Seventeen-year-old Jennifer E. Suddeth underwent a safe and legal abortion performed by Dr. Franklin Henry "Frank" Robinson Sr. on June 30, 1982.

On the drive home to Cerritos, Jennifer bled heavily, alarming her boyfriend, 20-year-old John Fredzess. 

Fredzess said that he called the clinic repeatedly over the four hours after their return home, but staff would not put the call through to Robinson. One nurse, he said, admonished Fredzess to "be realistic" about how severely Jennifer was bleeding. By that time, Jennifer had bled through two pairs of sweat pants, two blankets, and a towel. At last, the boyfriend said, he was able to contact Robinson at another clinic in La Puente. He said that Robinson insisted that the bleeding was normal and instructed Fredzess to stop calling.

Robinson agreed that Fredzess had repeatedly called the clinic, but denied dismissing Jennifer's symptoms as no cause for concern. He said that he had  first told Fredzess to bring Jennifer back to the clinic, but Fredzess had said he was too tired to make the drive. Robinson said he then told Fredzess to either call 911 or drive Jennifer to the hospital himself. "I was practically pleading," he said. Fredzess, Robinson said, didn't want to go to the hospital or call 911 because then people would find out abortion the abortion. He said that when Fredzess stopped calling, he assumed that Jennifer was at the hospital being tended to. 

When Jennifer went into convulsions, Fredzess said, he called an ambulance. Paramedics arrived at the home to find Jennifer already dead. She had lost at least six quarts of blood. Police interviewed the weeping and hysterical Fredzess, then botched the investigation.  

Sgt. Miriam Travis, who had been called to the scene to investigate, did not collect any evidence, such as Jennifer's clothing, the towels, or the truck seat onto which Jennifer had reportedly bled so heavily. Travis took only four photographs at the death scene because she "ran out of film" and she later lost two of the photographs.

Robinson said he learned about Jennifer's death when four patrol cars and at least ten armed officers arrived at his clinic and he was booked for first-degree murder. He was held without bail for two days before he was finally released.

After posting bail, Robinson told the Los Angeles Time that Jennifer had been "perfectly fine" when she'd left his office. "She came to me for an abortion, and I gave her an abortion. I gave her the best surgical technique I can do... to call that murder is incomprehensible to me."

The charge was reduced to manslaughter. During the second week of the trial, Travis found a box of her mail which had accumulated at her original office after she had relocated to a different room. In that box were phone records from Fredzess's home. He had said that he'd first spoken to Robinson at his La Puente clinic shortly after 2:30 pm. However, phone records showed that the first call to the La Puente office was not placed until 4:39 pm, less than 45 minutes before paramedics pronounced Jennifer dead.

With the evidence more strongly supporting Robinson's version of events, he was acquitted. Nevertheless, the state of California nevertheless counted Jennifer's death as due to illegal abortion.

Robinson has since retired and moved to Tennessee.

Watch "Who is to Blame?" on YouTube.


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