On August 6, 1975, 29-year-old Cheryl Tubbs underwent a saline abortion at Pacific Glen Hospital in Los Angeles County. She experienced heavy vaginal bleeding after this safe, legal abortion, so she was transferred to White Hospital on the evening of August 7.
continued to bleed profusely, and twice went into cardiac arrest. Staff
performed a paracentesis on her to remove blood and fluids from her
abdomen. About an hour after midnight, staff could no longer detect any
blood pressure. For an hour they tried heart massage, to no avail.
Cheryl was pronounced dead at 2:30AM on August 8.
An autopsy revealed that Cheryl's uterus had ruptured during the abortion, spilling blood and uterine material into her abdomen. She had bled to death.
Two years later, Jackie Bailey also bled to death from a ruptured uterus caused by a saline abortion at Pacific Glen.
Saline abortion was hardly a pleasant experience. The abortionist
would remove as much amniotic fluid as he could using a needle and
syringe. He would then replace the amniotic fluid with a concentrated
saline (salt) solution that would poison and kill the fetus. The woman
would then go into labor and expel the fetus.
Saline abortions became very popular in Japan following WWII. Within the
Japanese medical community, however, word quickly spread: this method
was unsatisfactory. Too many women were being injured and killed. Over
70 papers were published in the Japanese medical community reporting
hazards of saline abortions, including at least 60 maternal deaths. The
Japanese Obstetrical and Gynecological Society condemned the technique,
and it was quickly abandoned. But the Japanese abortionists kept news of
the trouble among themselves -- until Western nations discovered
instillation abortions and embraced them with great enthusiasm.
Two Japanese doctors, Takashi Wagatsuma and Yukio Manabe, broke the
silence. Wagatsuma wrote, "It is, I think, worthwhile to report its
rather distasterous consequences which we experienced in Japan." Manabe
wrote, "It is now known that any solution placed within the uterus can
be absorbed rather rapidly into the general circulation through the
vascular system of the uterus and placenta. Thus any solution used in
the uterus for abortion must be absolutely safe even if given by direct
intravenous injection. ... A solution deadly to the fetus may be equally
toxic and dangerous to the mother. ... In spite of the accumulating
undesirable reports, the use of hypertonic saline for abortion is still
advocated and used ... in the United States and Great Britain. I would
like to call attention to the danger of the method and would perdict the
further occurrence of deaths until this method is entirely forgotten in
As western abortionists gained experience with saline abortions, other grim reports arose. A British study published in 1966
found that the saline would enter the mother's bloodstream and cause
brain damage. Swedish researchers noticed an unacceptably high rate of
complications and deaths. Sweden and the Soviet Union abandoned saline
abortion as too dangerous for women in the late 1960s.
For whatever reasons, American abortionists were deaf to these warnings.
When New York had completely repealed its abortion law, doctors had
tremendous leeway in abortion practice. In New York City in particular,
it became popular to inject the woman with the saline in the office,
then send her home with instructions to report to a hospital when she
went into labor. This was, to say the least, a highly irresponsible way
to use an abortion technique that was risky even when performed in a
hospital under close medical supervision. Women started dying from these reckless saline abortions.
Women were also already dying in California as well, even though the law there still required abortions to be done in hospitals.
After Roe v Wade was handed down, saline and other instillation
abortions spread to other areas of the country, despite the dismal
goings-on in New York and California, and of course more women died.
US abortionists showed no alarm over these deaths. Even as late as
the 1990's, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and
abortionists such as Don Sloan and Warren Hern, were describing saline
and other instillation abortions in such terms as "a low-risk
Stastics show, however, that abortionists did gradually move away
from saline instillation abortions, albeit more slowly in New York City
than in the rest of the country.
Since the problem of maternal deaths from instillation abortions had
been long documented, this factor probably only had a minor impact on
the move away from saline and other instillation abortions. One
important factor was financial: although suction and D&C were
adequate procedures for first-trimester abortions, they were inadequate
for killing and removing the larger second-trimester fetuses. But the
uterus was not large enough to perform instillation abortions until 16
weeks. This left a 4-week "grey period" during which women could change
their minds about aborting.
There was also the problem of starting a suction or D&C abortion
only to discover that the pregnancy was already in the second trimester.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and abortionists who found
themselves dealing with second-trimester fetuses that had already been
damaged had to come up with ways to remove these fetuses quickly and
without alarming the patient. Thus evolved the Dilation and Evacuation
(D&E) procedure that remained popular for mid-trimester abortions
for over a decade.
D&E was cheaper than instillation abortions, which required at
least an overnight hospital stay. It also had the advantage of producing
fewer live births, the "dreaded complication" no abortionist wanted to
In spite of all the problems, abortionists still performed 366 instillation abortions in the US in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available.