Lena Benes #19101919 #40s #chicago #illinois #illegalmidwife

SUMMARY: 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.

LenaBenesDeathcert.jpg

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


  1. 1900s
  2. 1910-1919
  3. 1920s
  4. 1930s
  5. 1940s
  6. 1950s
  7. 1960s
  8. 1970s
  9. 1980s
  10. 1990s
  11. 19th century
  12. 2000-2009
  13. 20s
  14. 30s
  15. 40s
  16. NAF
  17. abortifacient
  18. abortion
  19. abortion mill
  20. abortion mortality
  21. abortionists
  22. abortionists -- female
  23. abortionists -- male
  24. alabama
  25. anesthesia
  26. arizona
  27. black women
  28. botched abortion
  29. california
  30. chicago
  31. colorado
  32. connecticut
  33. cover-up
  34. death
  35. deaths
  36. deception
  37. delay in transport
  38. delay in treatment
  39. district of columbia
  40. dumped body
  41. ectopic
  42. embolism
  43. falsifying forms
  44. fetal indications
  45. florida
  46. former criminal abortionist
  47. george tiller
  48. georgia
  49. hemorrhage death
  50. hospitals
  51. illegal - doctor
  52. illegal - midwife
  53. illegal - nurse
  54. illegal - paramedical
  55. illegal - post roe
  56. illegal - unknown
  57. illegal - untrained
  58. illegal abortion
  59. illinois
  60. inadequate documents
  61. inadequate equipment
  62. inadequate resuscitation
  63. incomplete abortion
  64. indiana
  65. infection
  66. kansas
  67. legal abortion
  68. llinois
  69. louisiana
  70. maryland
  71. massachusetts
  72. maternal indications
  73. maternal mortality
  74. michigan
  75. mills
  76. missouri
  77. mortality
  78. national abortion federation
  79. new jersey
  80. new mexico
  81. new york
  82. north carolina
  83. ohio
  84. oklahoma
  85. pennsylvania
  86. planned parenthood
  87. pre-roe legal
  88. previous misconduct
  89. prostaglandin
  90. quackery
  91. questionable stories
  92. ru-486
  93. rupture
  94. saline
  95. secret abortion
  96. self-induced
  97. suicide
  98. teens
  99. texas
  100. wisconsin