SUMMARY: Benjamin Munson performed a fatal abortion on 28-year-old Linda Padfield in his Rapid City, SD practice. She died of infection on June 18, 1973.

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Benjamin Munson
Benjamin Munson (pictured) had been practicing criminal abortion in Rapid City, SD as early as 1967. In 1969, he was convicted of performing an abortion on a 19-year-old patient. Munson won an appeal in circuit court. When the state appealed, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Munson was in the process of appealing this decision when Roe vs. Wade was handed down, making the case moot. Munson was free to practice abortion at-will. ("S.D. Abortion Law Question to Reach Court During 1971," Huron Daily Plainsman, Jan.20, 1971)

Into this situation walked 28-year-old Linda May Padfield. On June 15, 1973, Linda had traveled about five hours from Groton, SD with her three small children and a friend. Her mother, Audrey Padfield, had thought that Linda was making the trip to visit friends. Munson, then 61 years of age, performed the abortion that evening, and then Linda went to a motel for the night. The next day she, her children, and her friend did some sightseeing and then headed home to Groton.

They arrived on the 17th, and Linda was already sick with nausea and high fever. She told her mother about the abortion, and her mother took her to St. Luke's Hospital in Aberdeen for emergency surgery, but the infection had progressed too far and Linda died on June 18.

One of the doctors who treated Linda at the hospital, Dr. James Hovland, said that he had considered that Linda might have retained fetal parts but did not pursue the possibility because she would have died while doctors were trying to make the determination. He said that Linda had been conscious when she first arrived but that she deteriorated rapidly. She seemed to be going into kidney failure, and didn't even bleed from the incision made for exploratory surgery. Had he known immediately that Linda had most of the decomposing fetus still in her uterus, he said, he would have performed an immediate hysterectomy to remove the source of the infection. When asked if an immediate hysterectomy would have saved her, Hovland expressed his doubts, given how gravely ill Linda was from the results of the infection raging through her entire body.

A pathologist found the remains of a five-month fetus in Linda's uterus, missing a leg, arm, part of its skull and part of its torso. The 240 grams of retained fetus caused the massive infection that had killed Linda.

Munson sued to enjoin prosecution, but the case went to court nevertheless. The prosecution focused on the fact that infection will inevitably result from that much retained tissue. The Attorney General commented, "You take a three-inch leg off something, you have to know that there's more in there than just the leg." (American Medical News 8-29-77; AMA News 12-12-77, 1-23-78; Minneapolis Tribune 10-21-77)

naflogo.jpgThe defense, however, argued that infection is an accepted risk of abortion, and that the state couldn't prove that Munson meant to harm Linda. One defense attorney pointed out, "You've got to establish the standards of care before you can prove whether a doctor was culpably negligent." The only standard of care, the defense said, was a local standard of care. What abortion doctors did in other areas, the defese argued, was irrelevant. Since Munson was the only dedicated abortionist in the state, whatever he did, therefore, was by definition the community standard of care.The judge bought it, ordered the jury to acquit. Munson later became a member of the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

In In 1985, he sent a teenage patient, Yvonne Mesteth, home with retained tissue. She, like Linda Padfield, died of infection. Again Munson was prosecuted for manslaughter, and again he beat the rap. (Personal communication with SD Attorney General's office.)

Munson is the third former criminal abortionist I've learned of who had a clean record -- no patient deaths -- as a criminal abortionist, only to go on to kill two patients in his legal practice. The others are Milan Vuitch (Georgianna English and Wilma Harris) and Jesse Ketchum (Margaret Smith and Carole Schaner).

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Munson, a native of Whitewood, South Dakota, had first set up in Rapid City in 1952 after graduating from George Washington University and completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology in Youngstown, Ohio. Between college and medical school he had taught high school in Rapid City.

As you can see from the graph below, abortion deaths were falling dramatically before legalization. This steep fall had been in place for decades. To argue that legalization lowered abortion mortality simply isn't supported by the data.

external image Abortion+Deaths+Since+1960.jpg

Sources:
  • "Munson greeted warmly or with disgust," Minneapolis Tribune (Date unknown)
  • "Aberdeen doctors testify in Munson Trial," undated AP story
  • "Rapid city doctor faces manslaughter charge," Lead (SD) Daily Call, Oct. 6, 1977
  • "Janklow will not file appeal," Lead (SD) Daily Call, Oct. 19, 1977
  • "Munson acquitted," Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic, Oct. 21, 1977
  • "Abortion death disputed," Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic, Oct. 18, 1977

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"Munson greeted warmly or with disgust," Aberdeen (SD) American News, August 22, 1977



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