Wednesday, February 08, 2023

February 8, 1968: Retroactively Safe and Legal

Nancy Ward
In November of 1967, Nancy Ward, a student at the University of Oklahoma, told her boyfriend, Fred Landreth, that she was pregnant and wanted an abortion. Fred contacted his father for help. On January 30, 1968, Fred's father contacted osteopath Dr. Richard Mucie at his ear, nose, and throat clinic in Kansas City to consult with him about an abortion.

Mucie wanted to know how far advanced Nancy's pregnancy was. There were some calls back and forth between the elder Landreth, his son, and Mucie. Eventually Fred indicated that Nancy had been examined by a doctor and was about 13 or 14 weeks pregnant.

On February 7, Nancy and Fred flew from Oklahoma to Kansas City and visited Mucie at his clinic. Mucie examined Nancy while Fred waited, then told the couple that he would contact them at their hotel. The two had dinner and went to a show, then went to the hotel. 

At 11 p.m., Mucie called and arranged to pick Nancy and Fred up and drive them to his clinic. He took Nancy back for the back room while Fred waited in the outer office. About 20 to 30 minutes later, Mucie, dressed in a surgeon's gown, returned to the front office and asked Fred for money, $400, before starting the procedure. It wasn't until about 7:30 on the morning of February 8, Mucie came out and asked Fred if he wanted to come back and see Nancy.

Dr. Richard Mucie
Fred went with Mucie into the office and saw Nancy lying on a couch with a cover over her. Fred said, "Hello," to her. She smiled and moved her hand. Mucie told Fred that Nancy was still sedated. Fred went back to the waiting room to nap. He was awakened at about 11:30 that morning by Mucie's porter. Mucie told Fred that Nancy had suffered a heart attack and was in shock and had been taken to the hospital. He told Fred that he would come back for him, then went back into his office. Fred went looking for him and followed the sound of his voice to a back room, where Mucie was lying on a cot, talking on the phone and saying something to the effect of needing to call the coroner and filling out a death certificate.

Stunned, Fred went back to the waiting area. Mucie came out a few minutes later, told him that Nancy had died, and that they needed to stick to the story that the couple had been traveling through Kansas City and had called him because Nancy had started to have chest pains. It was around that time that the ambulance arrived. The driver and attendant found Nancy on a cot. Mucie told them that she still had a pulse, and instructed them to take her to Osteopathic Hospital and administer oxygen on the way. 

The ambulance driver and attendant noticed that Nancy's fingers had blood on the, her arms were stiff, and her hands were in a "clawed" position. They lifted Nancy and found that she was already stiff. The doctor at the hospital concluded that Nancy been dead about four hours. He called Mucie, who told him that he'd been treating Nancy for about two weeks for a heart condition. Nancy's body was taken to the morgue, where a detective observed the autopsy, noting needle marks on her arms, buttocks, and left breast. The detective took custody of the uterus, which had a tear about half an inch long inside. It also contained the skull and upper spine of a fetus of roughly 4 1/2 to 5 months gestation. Most of the remainder of the fetus, consisting of a shoulder blade, upper arm and shoulder joint, and part of a collar bone, was found in the trash at Mucie's clinic.

The autopsy found abundant evidence of the abortion, including stains from antiseptic on Nancy's upper thighs and genital area, a 1/2 inch tear in Nancy's uterus. The condition of her uterus, heart, and other organs indicated that she had gone into shock and died at the clinic at about 9 a.m. February 8, in spite of Mucie's attempts to resuscitate her. She had bled to death.

Mucie took the stand with a story that he hoped the jury would believe. He confirmed the call from Fred's father, the repeated calls back and forth as they tried to figure out the gestational age, and that Fred's father wanted to arrange an abortion. Mucie said that he had merely offered to examine Nancy for a $4 fee. He admitted that Fred and Nancy had come to his office and said that he'd examined Nancy and found her to be 4 1/2 to 5 months pregnant. He said that he told Nancy that she was so far along that nobody would be willing to do an abortion.

Mucie said that Nancy became frantic, saying that it would kill her father to learn of the pregnancy and that she would kill herself if nobody would perform an abortion. He said he gave Nancy some Vistaril to calm her then dropped the young couple back off at their hotel.

Mucie said that he had run some errands and gone to bed when he got a call from Nancy. "She was crying and hysterical" and feeling very ill. He said that he told Nancy to come back to the clinic. When the couple arrived, Mucie said, Nancy told him, "I had to do it. I just had to do it."

He then described at length examining Nancy. "She was in a state of aborting, and at this time immediate medical attention had to be instituted." He described at length the procedure to finish the abortion Nancy had supposedly started and treating her for the complications she suffered. 

Mucie was convicted on June 8, 1968, of performing an abortion "not necessary to preserve the life" of the mother. Illegal abortion at that time carried a penalty of 3-5 years, with the sentence to be increased in cases where the mother died. Mucie was sentenced to ten years, but only served 14 months then was released on parole. Parole was set to expire on July 27, 1977. His medical license was revoked on May 4, 1971. 

After Roe v. Wade overturned Missouri's abortion law, Mucie successfully appealed his conviction and got his license restored under a ruling that made Roe retroactive in Missouri. He was released from probation and his record expunged of the manslaughter-abortion conviction.

Watch Retroactively Safe and Legal on YouTube.


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