Lena Benes

Lena Benes19101919, 40s, chicago, illinois, illegalmidwifeSUMMARY: Lena Benes, age 43, died May 30, 1919 after an attempted criminal abortion at the hands of midwife Anna Heisler in Chicago.

On May 31, 1919, 36-year-old homemaker Lena Benes (alt. Benich) died at her Chicago home from an abortion perpetrated on May 20 by Anna M. Heisler, whose profession is listed only as “abortion provider,” though later documentation will note that she was a midwife. Heisler had used instruments of some sort on Lena.

Heisler was arrested, tried, and sentenced on August 30 of 1920 to 21 years at Joliet. However, her conviction was reversed on appeal on November 3, 1921. Dr. E.R. LeCount, who had performed the postmortem examination on Lena, “found all of the organs of the body healthy, except for changes from blood poisoning.” A two-month fetus was still in her uterus, badly decomposed and apparently dead for several days prior to the death of its mother.

Heisler’s attorney used this finding to argue that the procedure Heisler had performed on May 20 had obviously failed to kill the fetus, and that therefore was not an abortion, whatever Heisler’s intent had been. Thus, he asserted, she couldn’t be charged with murder in Lena’s death. The state challenged the appeal and won, based, it seems, on the idea that it didn’t matter if the abortion itself caused the baby’s death, or if the baby died from the subsequent infection, since either way Heisler had been trying to achieve its death unlawfully.

However, Heisler appealed yet again and succeeded. The court held that since the ensuing infection rather than the abortion procedure had caused the death of Lena’s baby, Heisler conviction of murder by abortion could not stand. Had the state pursued a charge of murder by attempted abortion, the conviction could have been upheld. Having thus managed to get out of prison before serving her full sentence, Heisler went on to kill Catherine Mau on February 13, 1929, and for that death she was again sent to Joliet.

It is just this sort of legal legerdemain that we need to sift through as we prepare for a post-Roe America. Abortionists were able to avoid prosecution or conviction, or to get their convictions overturned, over such rigamarole over whether the baby died because of the direct assault upon its person during the abortion or due to some lingering effect of the abortion. As we prepare for Roe to fall, we need to go through abortion cases state by state and find out how each and every pre-legalization abortionist was able to elude justice, and close up those loopholes. You can be sure that their attorneys are poised to do just that the moment the laws currently enjoined by Roe go back into effect.

Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.

In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.

For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

external image MaternalMortality.gif

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
Sources: Homicide in Chicago Interactive DatabasePeople v. Heisler, Supreme Court of Illinois, Oct. 22, 1921, No. 14014.


300 111 98 PEOPLE v HEISLER No 14014 Supreme Court of Illinois Oct 22 1921 Rehearing Denied Dec 9 1921 Criminal law 1 99 Homicide C ol42 S Variance between Indictment for murder by abortion and proof of attempted abortion resulting in death fatal conviction of latter not barring conviction of former offense

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