Wednesday, October 18, 2023

October 18, 1942: Death Reveals Abortion Ring

 On October 10, 1942, a young woman calling herself "Hannah Gold" went to the practice of 51-year-old Dr. Henry Katz of 1105 Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Immediately after performing an abortion, Katz realized that something had gone wrong so he summoned an obstetric surgeon. This doctor promptly admitted "Hannah" to Royal Hospital in the Bronx and notified the police.

The police arrested Katz the following day on suspicion of abortion and released him on $500 bail. (Around $9,000 in 2020) Katz denied any involvement.

"Hanna's" condition deteriorated and she died on October 18 from infection.

It wasn't until May Lichtenberg identified the body that authorities learned the dead woman's real name, Harriet Lichtenberg. Harriet, age 23, had been a college student living at 1379 St. John's Place in Brooklyn. She had married a soldier the previous August. Authorities did not release his name but believed that he was stationed in Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Katz had immigrated to the US from Hungary in 1913 and had graduated from Long Island Medical College. He was questioned intensely and told police the names of over a dozen other doctors in the Bronx who sent a total of about ten abortion patients to him every week. Katz charged $50 to $100 per abortion (c. $900 - $1,800 in 2022) and brought in between $25,000 and $50,000 a year from abortions alone. He provided kickbacks to the doctors who referred women to him.

Police rounded up twenty doctors at hospitals, offices, and homes all over the city, but their names were not released to the press. They were questioned regarding their involvement in sending patients to Katz, and released pending further action. One of them said he'd stopped referring patients to Katz after the attack on Pearl Harbor because he'd concluded that, "After our country went to war, to my mind anybody who had anything to do with abortions was unpatriotic. I considered they were traitors." 

Sixty women were also arrested and questioned about the abortion ring. 

Katz was originally charged with homicide. He 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. He sentenced Katz to a one to four year sentence in Sing Sing.

One bizarre note: Though police found that a score of other doctors were feeding patients into Katz's abortion business, his receiving note at Sing Sing says that he had no accomplices. Evidently nobody else was ever charged.

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.

Watch Who Were the 20 Other Doctors? on YouTube.


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