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Criminal Abortion Deaths Uncovered
It wasn't that easy to hide an abortion death when abortion was a crime.
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• 1932: A String of Deaths in Oklahoma City
• Chicago, 1928: Abortionist Sentenced to Die
• Criminal Abortion Deaths Uncovered
• Doctors and the Back-Alley Abortion
 Legal Abortion Deaths Before Roe
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Abortion advocates claim that pre-legalization mortality numbers were grossly underreported. After all, they say, doctors aren't going to alert the health department when they kill a patient during the commission of a crime. What these abortion advocates don't take into account is how many other people could alert authorities to the real reason a woman died.

Three cases from the archives of the New York Times serve as examples.

Rose Lipner, age 32, mother of 2, died at Riverdale Hospital on January 29, 1936. Dr. Maxwell C. Katz, who lived at Riverdale (maternity) Hospital, which he operated, signed a death certificate indicating that Rose had been operated on for a tumor. After the funeral, an anonymous caller notified police that the death was suspicious, and Rose was exhumed for an autopsy. The medical examiner determined that Rose had died from an abortion. Katz was arraigned for second-degree manslaughter. (Source: New York Times 2-8-36)

On January 21, 1961, Dr. Mandel M. Friedman contacted a Queens undertaker, asking him to arrange burial for 23-year-old Vivian Grant of New York. Friedman told the undertaker that Vivian had died of a heart ailment. The undertaker notified authorities, who determined that although Vivian had not been pregnant, Friedman had attempted to perform an abortion on her, causing her death. Friedman was charged with homicide and falsifying a death certificate. (Source: New York Times 1-24-61)

Dr. Mandel M. Friedman resurfaced late the following year. He was charged with homicide in the September 11, 1962 death of Barbara C. Covington, age 35, a Florida socialite. Friedman attributed Barbara's death to a heart attack and tried to get an undertaker to arrange a burial. The undertaker reported the case to authorities. A 31-year-old advertising executive, Franklin Charles Beck, admitted to securing the $1000 abortion fee and driving Barbara to Friedman's office. Friedman was on bail for the death of Vivian Grant at the time of Barbara's death. (Source: New York Times 9-13-62, 9-14-62)

If you look at maternal mortality research prior to the legalization of abortion, you'll find that the researchers did not content themselves with asking doctors to report how many patients they were killing with abortions. (That's the method currently used.) Researchers asked the cooperation of coroners, medical examiners, and hospital administrators in uncovering deaths from criminal abortions. Two such studies were done in California and Minnesota.

The number of deaths uncovered in these studies indicated that the surveillance system then in place nationwide was effective in uncovering abortion deaths. After all, failure to report an abortion death was in itself a crime -- what hospital administrator, nurse, undertaker, coroner, or medical examiner would want to risk ruining a career, and possibly facing criminal charges, to cover up for a seedy quack abortionist?

No doubt there were some abortion deaths that went uncounted. Some abortionists dismembered their victims and dumped the bodies. If enough time passed before the remains were found -- or if the remains were never found at all -- the cause of death could never be determined. But as criminals of all stripes have learned, it's not always easy to dispose of a body.

Given the ease with which a death could be brought to the attention of authorities, pre-legalization abortion mortality counts were probably fairly accurate. That is more than we can say for the post-legalization mortality count done by the Centers for Disease Control.

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