Saturday, July 07, 2012

1950 & 1982: Equally Dead, Not Equally Remembered

I was originally very skeptical about the story told on the National Organization for Women web site. They said that Vivian Campbell was a recently-separated 24-year-old mother of two when she discovered she was pregnant. NOW indicated that Vivian sent her children to stay with her parents while she obtained some sort of illegal abortion. NOW provided no details of the abortion, but did say that Vivian asked for her estranged husband, who came to the hospital only after she had died of peritonitis on May 6, 1950. I decided to check the story out when I was able to visit the archives of the Allegheny County Coroner's Office in Pittsburgh. What I found left me totally bewildered as to why NOW and other abortion advocacy organizations using Vivian's story didn't bother to do any research.They certainly would have it pay dirt, verifying the fact that Vivian did indeed die from complications of an illegal abortion -- evidently self-induced with castor oil. This was unusual, since the majority of pre-legalization abortions were done by physicians, but typical abortions don't make good PR for those promoting legalization.

Legal abortion deaths, on the other hand, slide under the radar of the self-appointed champions of women's lives. On July 2, 1982, 23-year-old Darlene Wood was put under anesthesia for a second trimester abortion at Temple University Hospital. The abortionist was Renga Rajan; the anesthethesiologist was William Stevenson-Smith. Darlene was given nitrous oxide by face mask. She started coughing after the procedure began. After the abortion was completed, she was admitted to the respiratory intensive care unit, where she was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension. Over the next several days, Darlene experienced increasing respiratory distress. She was given medication to maintain her blood pressure. But on July 7, Darlene went into cardio-respiratory arrest. She was pronounced dead at 2:50 p.m. The administratrix of Darlene's estate contended that the lack of appropriate medical and anesthetic clearance was a substantial factor in her death. Rajan was also successfully sued for the 1987 abortion death of Iris Velazquez.

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