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Roberta Danks, Illegal Abortion Death
Body dumped to disguise reason for death
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On February 17, 1949, the battered body of Mrs. Roberta Shirley Danks, a 28-year-old war widow from Chicago, was found crumpled on a rural road near Chesterton, Indiana. She had bruises over her body and a deep gash on her head, but an autopsy revealed that these injuries had been sustained after her death, evidently to try to make Roberta appear to be the victim of a hit-and-run driver. She had actually died of peritonitis from a criminal abortion performed several days earlier.

An investigation found that Roberta had undergone an abortion, performed by a physician, in the basement of the Chicago home of 40-year-old housewife Olive Janes. Roberta had been on leave from her job as a switchboard operator at Roosevelt College in Chicago.

Roberta's boyfriend, 36-year-old James Manes, who had been involved with her for three years, said he hadn't seen her since February 6.

Janes was sentenced to 7 - 14 years for manslaughter, plus 5 - 10 years on two other abortion counts.

Dorothy's abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was performed by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

Illegal by Doctors Illegal by Paramedical Illegal by Amateurs Self Induced

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.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

Source: "Woman is Sentenced in Abortion Death", The Oklahoman, August 3, 1949; "Abortion Attempt Blamed in Death", Chicago Tribune Press Services, February 18, 1949

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