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Court Hears Illegal Abortion Case


In 1955, abortion was illegal in New York State. That meant that the only termination of a valid pregnancy was if it was necessary to save the life of the mother. In the case of an abortion to save the life of the mother, it is called a therapeutic abortion. In legal terms, an abortion is any pregnancy that is spontaneously or induced to be terminated. In a spontaneous abortion, the pregnancy is terminate by a cause that is a natural act that is either normal or abnormal. The key is that a spontaneous abortion is one that occurs without any outside force being placed upon it either legally or illegally. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the code section that applied to abortions in New York in 1955 was the Sanitary Code of the City of New York § 224. At the opposite end of the spectrum defined by §224, is the induced abortion. An induced abortion is one that is caused by a person by artificial means. An induced abortion may be caused by a doctor, nurse, layperson, or even the woman herself.

A spontaneous abortion is most commonly referred to as a miscarriage and cannot be governed by the laws of society. In 1955, the prosecutors became concerned that there were illegal abortions being performed by a local hospital. The District Attorney of Kings County went to the Grand Jury of Kings County and requested an inquest to determine if the hospital was covering up illegal abortions. A Nassau County Criminal Lawyer said they stated that they thought that the doctors were not reporting the illegal abortions that were brought to them.

The law stated that anytime that a woman arrived at the hospital and the doctor believed that she had attempted to perform an illegal abortion on herself that they had to call the police and report the incident. The police would arrive and charge the woman with the misdemeanor offense of inducing an abortion in violation of the laws of the state. If a woman presented at the hospital and someone else had attempted to perform an illegal abortion on her, the doctors are responsible for notifying the authorities to come to the hospital and investigate the situation. The hospital administrator is responsible for keeping track of all of the numbers of miscarriages and abortions that are treated at the hospital. These statistics are turned in to the state and are reviewed. In reviewing these statistics, the District Attorney determined that they were not accurate. He had no proof that they were not accurate, only that he believed that they were not being reported correctly.

The Grand Jury issued a subpoena for the production of documents that directed the Superintendent of the hospital to produce all medical records that were related to all miscarriages, therapeutic abortions, and criminal abortions that were on the report. The Superintendent refused to produce the medical records. He maintained that doctors are only required to report the information on patients who have violated the laws of the state. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said a patient who has presented at the hospital having a miscarriage or requiring a therapeutic abortion are not in violation of any law and are protected from having their personal information distributed to the police by the doctor and patient privilege. The Kings County District Attorney demanded that he required all of the records to be able to determine if any of the terminated pregnancies that were listed as therapeutic abortions or miscarriages, were actually criminal abortions that were not reported.

When the Superintendent continued to refuse, the District Attorney attempted to have his arrested for contempt of court. The Superintendent appealed to the Supreme Court who agreed with the doctor. The determination of the court was that he did not have to present the documents.

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