Sophia Roeabortionmortality, maternalmortalitySUMMARY: “Sophia,” age 19, died in Youngstown, OH on December 30, 1967, from complications of an illegal abortion perpetrated in the Pittsburgh, PA area by Dr. Benjamin King on December 27.
My original source for this story was the “Detective Jack” chapter of Patricia G. Miller’s book, The Worst of Times. Miller doesn’t substantiate the story in any way, nor does she provide any source other than the man identified as “Detective Jack”. Detective Jack does not give the woman’s name, so I will call her “Sophia”.
The Original Story
On December 27, 1967, Sophia traveled from Youngstown, Ohio, to Duquesne, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to have an abortion performed by a Dr. Benjamin King. Sophia was a 19-year-old freshman at Ohio State University. She got King’s contact information from her boyfriend, who was also 19 years old. King put out word about his services on college campuses in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Sophia’s boyfriend accompanied her to King’s office. They paid him $300 for the abortion. The young couple returned to Youngstown, where Sophia was promptly hospitalized. She died the next day. King had perforated her uterus, according to “Dr. Clay” in Miller’s book. Detective Jack said that when they went to arrest King, “we nearly had a riot on our hands.” Unsavory people had turned up on large numbers to protect him.
Though King was a reputable physician, he drifted into illegal activities. In addition to his arrests for abortion (He had injured two women prior to the fatal abortion on Sophia.), he was arrested in 1968 for failure to report a gunshot wound and in 1970 for selling narcotics.
According to Dr. Clay, King was eventually sent to prison for Sophia’s death.
I was able to confirm and add to “Detective Jack’s” story as archived newspapers became available online. King was in his 40s at the time of the abortion and his arrest. The location of his practice was alternatively given as McKeesport, Homestead, and Aliquippa, all in the vicinity of Pittsburgh.King had a history of being an abortionist, and was awaiting trial for another case in which the woman had survived at the time of Sophia’s fatal abortion.
The young man who had accompanied Sophia for the abortion told police that he had called King on December 29 to say that she was very ill. Sophia died on December 30 at South Side Hospital in Youngstown.
The young man had been unable to pay King the entire $300 fee at the time of the abortion. After speaking to Police, he arranged to meet the doctor to hand over the rest of the money, whereupon the police quickly arrested King.
King was indeed sentenced to prison for Sophia’s death, as well as for the non-fatal abortion the year before Sophia’s death. His wife, Regina, had also been convicted as an accessory before the fact in that abortion, having collected the woman’s $250 fee.
While awaiting trial for Sophia’s death, King and three of his relatives (his brother, stepson, and stepson’s wife) were arrested in Brooklyn on charges relating to $15,000 worth of narcotics found in King’s car.
The court decision reversing King’s conviction in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision noted “In the course of the abortion, Dr. King perforated the decedent’s cervix. She sustained peritonitis, massive hemorrhaging and, as a consequence, suffered severe traumatic shock. The patient expired on December 30, 1967, two days after the abortion procedure.”
Sophia’s abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.
In the 1960s, we see the 20th Century downward trend in abortion mortality resumed — until a brief upturn starting in 1968, when some states first started loosening their abortion laws. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1960’s. For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- Commonwealth v. Page,451 Pa. 331 (1973)
- “Abortion Case Delayed 6 Times,” Pittsburgh Press, Feb. 21, 1968
- “Physician Guilty In Abortion Case,” Beaver County Times, Dec. 12, 1969
- “Abortion Count Brings 1-To-3 Years, Pittsburgh Press, Apr. 1, 1970
- “Pa. Court Nullifies Antiabortion Laws,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 30, 1973