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Abortion in Jax Before Roe v. Wade

The grisly truth of an illegal local abortion hospital

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“Jacksonville Abortion Ring is Uncovered,” the headline screamed. On Thursday, Feb. 8, 1951, police investigating “an abortion death” raided a “dilapidated hospital where at least two women underwent illegal operations and one had a baby which she surrendered for ‘expenses.’”

Dr. Alvah Weathers was arrested several times in the next few months, along with his one-legged abortionist assistant, Walter Ziegler, whose real name was Wininger. Investigators found “a little black book” containing hundreds of names of women from Florida and Georgia, likely patients at Weathers’ Springfield Hospital, located several blocks northeast of the Victorian neighborhood for which it was named, at 647 E. 27th St.

Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in all states in 1973, American women seeking terminations of pregnancy frequently traveled to Mexico, where abortion was illegal and dangerous but accessible. Wealthier women flew to England, Sweden or Japan, where abortions were legal and safe. Poorer women sought out disreputable doctors, some with degrees and training, some without—men like Alvah Weathers. Hospitals frequently contained septic wards, where women suffering from “fulminating septicemia” and “incomplete abortions,” performed elsewhere, often died. Abortions that didn’t kill or injure women, however, sometimes left them infertile.

At least two women died after undergoing illegal abortions at Springfield Hospital. Other women gave birth at the clinic, then gave their babies up for adoption, for which Weathers faked birth certificates.

When Ron Cogburn opened his electrical contracting office in the old building in 1982, strangers told him not to go digging. When Faye Cogburn took her original birth certificate from her wallet at a baby shower—her mother, on her deathbed, had recently given it to her—she discovered she’d been born in the same building from which her husband was now doing business.

“I pulled it out to show some of the women what so-called ‘old’ birth certificates used to look like. Someone said, ‘Where were you born?’ I’d always thought I was born at St. Luke’s Hospital, but when I looked at the address, it said 647 E. 27th St., with Alvah Weathers listed as physician.”

Faye Cogburn is one of a group of older adults who now refer to themselves as “Weathers babies.” Celia Settle searched for years for her biological parents and found her birth father only last year. She couldn’t believe he was still alive. “Weathers babies,” who post in online adoption forums from all over the world, are mostly in their 70s. Even at this point in her life, she feared rejection, but her father kept apologizing for never having known she existed.

The courtroom drama that stretched across June 1951 featured physicians attesting that Weathers couldn’t physically endure a trial, the testimony of Evelyn Kriston, who received an abortion at Springfield Hospital and whom The Florida Times-Union repeatedly referred to as “the comely blonde,” and a series of defense attorneys dropping Weathers’ case.

Homicide detectives dug up the bones “of human babies” on hospital grounds, while Weathers told reporters he’d not once “taken a drink” in all his years and was “the only morally perfect man.”

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Read the full story, told now for the first time in a JaxPsychoGeo.com three-part series here.

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