SUMMARY: Dorothy Martin, age 22, died on July 29, 1949 from complications of an abortion perpetrated by professional lay abortionist P. D. Beigun in Georgia.

The Abortion

On July 29, 1949, on the basis of a third-party referral, Dorothy R. Martin, age 22, went to the Georgia home of P.D. Beigun for an abortion. Beigun was not a physician or qualified to practice medicine. Dorothy, with the assistance of a man named Virgil Echols, had vistied Beigun a few days earlier to make the arrangements. Beigun took Dorothy into a bedroom while Echols waited in the living room.

Trouble

About 15 or 20 minutes later, Echols heard a sound described as a "slump," and Beigun called for him to come and help. Beigun went into the other room and found Beigun supporting an unconscious Dorothy by the waist. Dorothy made a gurgling sound.

Echols helped Beigun lay Dorothy on the bed, and the men picked up her panties off the floor and put them back on her. Echols tried to revive Dorothy, and asked Beigun what happened. Beigun indicated that he'd packed Dorothy's uterus with gauze.

Help and Cover Up

The men summoned police and an ambulance. While they waited, Beigun instructed Echols on what story they were to tell. They were to say that they'd been sitting in the living room with Dorothy when she'd felt faint and asked for a glass of water. Then, they'd say, Dorothy fainted and they moved her to the bed. Beigun warned Echols that he'd be in just as much trouble as Beigun himself unless he stuck with the story.

The Evidence

When the police arrived, Dorothy was dead. A toxicologist, who later participated in the autopsy, said that when he arrived at Beigun's home to remove Dorothy's body, he'd found her with her slip bloody and rolled up around her waist, but that there'd been no blood on the panties.

The next day the toxicologist and a physician performed an autopsy. They found that Dorothy's cervix had been dialated, discolored, and abraded, and that her injury must have been very painful. They believed that gauze had been forced into Dorothy's uterus, even though no gauze was present at autopsy, because her injuries were consistent with this scenario. They also concluded that Dorothy had gone into shock and died within a few minutes of her injury. Dorothy had been in good health, with no abnormalities of her heart, lungs, or kidneys and no history of fainting.

The fetus appeared to be about three to four months of gestation. It was removed at autopsy, along with Dorothy's damaged uterus, and placed in a glass jar to be presented as evidence of Dorothy's pregnancy, gestational state, and injuries.

Three days after Dorothy's death, medical supplies and broken packages of gauze bandages were found in Beigun's home and collected as evidence.

Revelations at Trial

In trial, it came out that Echols had previously brought his own wife to Beigun for an abortion. That abortion took place in June, 1948. Echols paid Beigun $65. Echols had dropped his wife off for the abortion and picked her up later to take her home. She became sick with nausea and pain, and Echols pulled a 6-inch rubber tube and about 60 feet of gauze out of his wife's uterus. Her pain became so great that Echols called a doctor, who had the sick woman brought to a hospital. Her temperature was 104 degrees. She was provided with penicillin and a blood transfusion. Beigun visited her at the hospital, asking why she'd not returned to him for treatment rather than going to somebody else.

Documents don't reveal why Echols, whose own wife had very nearly died under Beigun's care, brought another woman to the same man for his dubious services.

Illegal Abortion

Dorothy's abortion was unusual in that it was performed by an amateur, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

During the 1940s, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality from abortion. The death toll fell from 1,407 in 1940, to 744 in 1945, to 263 in 1950. Most researches attribute this plunge to the development of blood transfusion techniques and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.
external image Abortion+Deaths+Since+1940.jpg
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


Sources:
  • 206 Ga. 618, 58 S.E.2d 149; Supreme Court of Georgia. Biegun v. State No. 16985.Feb. 16, 1950
  • Georgia death index, 1919-1998


  1. 1900s
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