Legend has it that the Centers for Disease Control keep track of abortion deaths. The case of Latachie Veal, who died November 2, 1991, should lay that legend to rest.
Latachie was 17 years old, and 22 weeks pregnant, when Robert Dale Crist performed an abortion on her at Houston's West Loop Clinic on that fateful day. According to Latachie's family, she bled heavily at the clinic, and cried out to the staff for help. They told her that her symptoms were normal, and sent her home. Several hours later, Latachie stopped breathing. Her brother-in-law called 911 while her sister did CPR, to no avail. Latachie was dead on arrival at Ben Taub Hospital.
If Latachie's death certificate had been filled out properly, with the notation of the abortion in the proper box, using the proper ICD-9 code, then theoretically the National Center for Health Statistics would spot the abortion code and report it. But most states send only a statistical sample of their death certificate data to the NCHS. So the CDC would be notified of Latachie's death through the NCHS only if the death certificate was properly filled out, and if Latachie's death certificate was among those abstracted and sent to the NCHS.
But still, according to abortion defenders, Latachie's death would nevertheless be automatically reported to the Centers for Disease Control. They're not clear on who is supposed to report the death. Was West Loop Clinic supposed to report it? Was Crist supposed to report it? Was Ben Taub Hospital supposed to report it? Was the medical examiner supposed to report it? Was the Texas Department of Health supposed to report it? The CDC says it gets abortion death information from abortionists, abortion facilities, hospitals, and state health departments, but it does not mention that the reporting is not mandatory.
This does not mean that Latachie's death went utterly unnoticed. Her family filed suit, retaining the flamboyant "Racehorse" Haynes as their attorney. The case was highly publicized, both in Texas and in Missouri, where Crist had performed a fatal abortion on Diane Boyd, a 19-year-old developmentally disabled woman who had been raped in the institution where she'd lived.
The mainstream publicity went beyond the usual newspaper articles, with Crist giving television interviews calling the publicity "media hype" and "a political event." Haynes retorted, "I wish he would have a copy of the 911 tape.... If he would talk to the parents, if he would talk to the sister as she gave her CPR or talk to the brother-in-law as she was breathing her last breath and see then if he thinks it's a media event."
With all this mainstream publicity in two states, prolife organizations picked up the story, and it was reported in prolife newsletters around the nation.
A lot of people very quickly found out about the abortion death of 17-year-old Latachie Veal. But did the CDC?
At the 1992 National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar in Dallas, Crist, a long-time member, spoke openly of Latachie's death. (He did not, of course, mention her name; I've concluded that he's discussing Latachie's death, since there's been no evidence of any another 17-year-old abortion patient of his who died in 1991.) Crist blamed the death not on malpractice, but on disseminated intravascular coagulopathy.
Present at that Risk Management Seminar, where Crist chattered about Latachie's death, were two -- count 'em, two -- staffers from the Centers for Disease Control's abortion surveillance activities area: Stanley Henshaw and Lisa Koonin. Henshaw's presence isn't quite as remarkable as Koonin's. It was Lisa Koonin, specifically, whose job it was to "verify" abortion deaths, and obtain copies of death certificates. These she was to pass on to a research fellow, Clarice Green, who would then gather the full information about the case.
In spite of all the publicity, in spite of the lawsuit, in spite of the prolifers shouting from the rooftops, in spite of the abortionist discussing the death at an event attended by the very woman whose job it was to notice abortion deaths, the Centers for Disease Control did not notice Latachie's death. Their 1991 Abortion Surveillance Report, published in May of 1995, did not even make any mention of abortion mortality. And when we at Life Dynamics filed a request for information about abortion deaths, we found that the CDC counted zero -- count 'em, zero -- abortion deaths among women of Latachie's race in the 15 - 19 age range. In other words, they didn't even notice.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the CDC failed to notice this highly-publicized death, discussed openly at an event attended by two of their abortion surveillance staffers, exactly what does it take to get them to notice an abortion death? And how can we even pretend to believe that any serious attempt to accurately count abortion deaths was being made? What does a woman have to do for the CDC to notice her death, crawl to Atlanta and expire in their offices, with her aftercare instructions still clutched in her hand?
Given how much opportunity they had to notice Latachie Veal's death, I sometimes wonder if even that would get their attention.
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