Monday, March 02, 2009

Anniversary: "This baby won't stop breathing"

On March 2, 1977, a high school student named Mary W. checked into Westminster Community Hospital in California for a saline abortion to be performed by Dr. William Baxter Waddill (pictured). She had been examined by another ob/gyn on February 22, and he had informed her that, since she was 28 weeks into her pregnancy by his estimate, she was too far along for an abortion. He advised Mary to consider making an adoption plan. But somehow Mary had learned that Waddill would be willing to do the abortion, even at this late point in pregnancy. Waddill initiated the abortion by saline injection and left Mary in the care of the nurses.

Mary's baby, a 2 lb, 8 oz infant girl, was expelled that evening and discovered by a nurse who was attending Mary. The nurse clamped the cord and was about to put the baby in a bucket for transport to the pathology lab, when she noticed that the infant was moving and crying. Another nurse suggested putting the baby in the bucket anyway. Yet another nurse testified that she had seen the infant move but said nothing about this to avoid distressing Mary. The first nurse summoned the nursing supervisor, who noted that the baby was pink and making sucking motions. She sent the baby to the nursery and summoned Waddill.

A nurse at the nursery cleared the infant's throat, placed her in an isolette, and charted a heartrate of 88. A neonatal ICU nurse began providing respiratory assistance on the little girl, and asked for help performing an intubation, which is routine NICU care. Waddill arrived and dismissed all the others from room. Several witnesses heard Waddill instruct staff "not to do a goddam thing for the baby." An ER doctor saw Waddill squeeze the umbilical cord, whereupon the "child jerked its body and gasped for air."

During Waddill's trial, a tape was entered into evidence of a call from Waddill to a pediatrician, Dr. Ronald Cornelsen. The tape had Waddill telling Dr. Cornelsen to come to the hospital, because the law required a pediatrician to assist when a newborn was in distress. Waddill said, "If we all tell the same story, there will be no trouble. ... So long as we stand together, no one anywhere can make any accusations anywhere. ... Do not get squirrely. Just tell them exactly as we've discussed. Just say you went in, there was no heartbeat and you left."

Dr. Cornelsen testified that when he arrived at the hospital the infant, a baby of about 31 weeks gestation, was breathing and had a heart rate of 60-70. There were bruises on her neck. Dr. Cornelson said that Waddill told him, "Sorry to get you in this mess. We had a baby that came out live from a saline abortion, and it can't live!" Dr. Cornelsen testified that he saw Waddill press on the infant's neck, saying, "I can't find the goddam trachea," and "This baby won't stop breathing." Dr. Cornelsen testified, "I said, 'Why not just leave the baby alone?' He said, 'This baby can't live or it will be a big mess.'" Waddill requested potassium choloride, for an injection to stop the baby's heart, but Dr. Cornelsen wouldn't let the nurse get it. Dr. Cornelsen said Waddill also asked for a bucket to drown the baby in.

Waddill claimed that he hadn't strangled the baby, that she had died of natural causes before he even arrived at the hospital to deal with the delivery. He also said that all of his actions were done in the best interests of the mother and the baby.

A pathologist examined the baby's lungs and concluded that she'd been alive for at least 30 minutes. The neck trauma was "consistent with manual pressure, and inconsistent with saline." This pathologist also testified that only the infant's placenta and small bowel seemed to have been "significantly affected by the saline," meaning that the baby had not suffered fatal injury from exposure to the saline in-utero. The autopsy found the cause of the baby's death to have been "manual strangulation." The baby's gestational age was determined to have been 29 to 31 weeks at autopsy. This is consistent with the gestational age estimated by the ob/gyn who had suggested an adoption plan.

All told, over 13 weeks of testimony, the witnesses described three unsuccessful attempts by Waddill to strangle Mary's baby, and the fourth, successful, attempt. But during deliberations, the jury asked for clarification of a procedural point. A few phone calls to clarify the point led to the discovery by the attorneys and judge that there was a definition of "death" in the California health and safety code that the jury had not been informed of. Because the testimony hadn't directly addressed this particular definition of "death," the jurors became hopelessly deadlocked over whether Waddill's actions, though clearly causing what laymen would consider the "death" of the baby, had caused what the law would call the "death" of the baby. The judge had to delcare a mistrial. A second jury was also deadlocked, and the charges against Waddill were eventually dismissed.

Mary later sued Waddill, saying that he'd never told her that her baby might been born alive, and that she never would have consented to the abortion had she known this was possible. She said that Waddill "willfully and unlawfully used force and violence upon the person of the baby [W.] ... causing the decedent baby [W.] to die."

Waddill continued to perform abortions in California, and as of 2000 was working for National Abortion Federation member Family Planning Associates Medical Group, a chain where the following women and girls suffered fatal abortions: Deanna Bell, Chanelle Bryant, Patricia Chacon, Laniece Dorsey, Josefina Garcia, Denise Holmes, Susan Levy, Christine Mora, Kimberly Neil, Joyce Ortenzio, Mary Pena, and Tami Suematsu.

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