Sunday, July 19, 2009

1970: Abortion death sparks outrage, calls for complacency

Carmen Rodriguez was 31 years old when she underwent a 14-week saline abortion at Lincoln Hospital in New York City.

She had a history of rheumatic heart disease and two previous live births. After the saline was injected, it got into Carmen's blood stream. This caused acute pulmonary edema -- fluid accumulation in the lungs -- and Carmen went into a coma from which she never recovered. She died on July 19, 1970, leaving behind a husband along with her children.

After Carmen's death, a militant Puerto Rican group, The Young Lords, swung into action. They pointed out that doctors at Lincoln Hospital knew that Carmen had heart problems and failed to take proper precautions -- a very valid claim. After all, saline abortions had long been known to be risky to the woman's heart. What responsible physician would choose to perform an abortion on a heart patient, using a technique that has been documented as potentially causing heart-damaging electrolyte imbalances?

The Young Lords distributed leaflets in the neighborhood of the hospital, denouncing Carmen's death as "murder". For 12 hours, the group occupied an administration building connected with the hospital, denouncing the hospital as "a butcher shop that kills patients".

Merle Goldman, spokeswoman of an abortion advocacy organization, did not share The Young Lords' outrage. Ms. Goldman said she hoped that Carmen's death wouldn't deter other women from undergoing abortions. She touted abortion's reputed safety and stressed that her group was lobbying against proposed health department regulation of abortion practice.

New York City Chief Medical Examiner Milton Helpern, on the other hand, expressed concern that ill-equipped and poorly-staffed freestanding abortion facilities were posing a danger to women.

For more abortion deaths, visit the Cemetery of Choice:

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