Operating on a tip, police, accompanied by an ambulance, broke into a private home at 2753 Sexton Place, in the Pelham section of the Bronx, on April 4, 1954. There they found Gertrude Pinsky, age 35, dead from septic poisoning from an illegal abortion.
Police arrested Florence Cavalluzzo, a resident of the home, and Hugo Francese, an unlicensed physician. Later arrested were Jack M. Werner, owner of Werner Surgical Supplies, and Ignatius Cavalluzzo, Florence Cavalluzzo's son.
Dr. Samuel E. Witt was charged with referring women to the abortion ring, evidently run by Dr. Herbert S. Wolfe. Four doctors were charged with referring women and receiving a $30 kickback for each referral: Joseph F. Pacelli, Abraham Cohen, Kalman Molnar, and Poon Lim.
Francese and Florence Cavalluzzo were convicted of first-degree manslaughter in Gertrude's death. A police detective, found at the home at the time of the raid, was acquitted.
Gertrude's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.
During the 1950s, we see an anomaly: Though maternal mortality had been falling during the first half of the 20th Century, and abortion mortality in particular had been plummeting, the downward trend slowed, then reversed itself briefly. I have yet to figure out why. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1950's.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
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