When the Hyde Amendment went into effect, abortion advocates ramped up the hysteria and waited for a death, any death, they could hang around Henry Hyde's neck.On October 3, 1977, the abortion advocacy vultures got what they'd been waiting for: a dead woman they could use as leverage in the fight to once again force taxpayers to fund elective abortions.
On September 26, 1977, 27-year-old Rosie Jiminez had shown up at the emergency room of McAllen General Hospital in the Texas border town of McAllen, with septic shock. She was put in intensive care, but died on October 3 from renal and cardiac failure caused by disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (failure of the blood to clot properly) triggered by gas gangrene from a criminal abortion. She left behind one child.
The initial response of the abortion lobby to news of Rosie's death was little short of euphoric. They had their trophy, their dead woman whose story they could leverage, they hoped, into the restoration of tax money flowing into abortion clinics.
A Voice in the Wilderness
One voice stood out from the crowd: Ellen Frankfort, author of Rosie: the investigation of a wrongful death. Frankfort was disgusted with the bulk of the prochoice movement, who seemed content to make note of the death and then milk it for political gain. She began an investigation into what had led Rosie to her death, and she found a lot that neither the Centers for Disease Control nor abortion advocacy organizations had been willing to look for, since all they'd wanted was political leverage. They weren't looking for the real culprit behind Rosie's death: they'd had a bogeyman in mind even before she'd died, in the form of Henry Hyde.
Off to McAllen Frankfort went, to learn all she could.
The Whole Story
Rosie had already undergone two abortions at taxpayer expense, one performed by her private ob/gyn, the second at a facility Rosie had been referred to by a local Planned Parenthood. In September of 1977, she suspected that she was again pregnant, and consulted with a cousin and a friend, who told her that Medicaid would no longer pay for elective abortions.
Rosie had also gone to her family physician, Dr. Homer, in McAllen for treatment of pain in her sternum. She mentioned that she might be pregnant. He did not arrange for a pregnancy test or discuss her options with her in any way, but simply informed her that Medicaid would no longer pay for abortions, and let it rest at that. A referral seemed to have been in order, either to a prolife center that would help her with the expenses of continuing the pregnancy, or to the local Planned Parenthood, that could arrange an abortion on a sliding scale and could possibly help her tap into private funds for elective abortions. Dr. Homer effectively abandoned his patient.
The week of September 19, Rosie went to Mexico for some sort of injection to cause an abortion. She had the shots at a pharmacy, at $5 each. On September 25, she consulted with her cousin, saying that she wanted to find a cheap abortionist quickly. Rosie's cousin brought her to a lay midwife in McAllen, who charged $120 to insert a catheter into Rosie's uterus. Fifteen minutes later, she sent Rosie home.
Rosie had pain and cramping upon returning home. Over the next 12 hours, she developed an increasing fever, and had nausea, vomiting, chills, dizziness, and increasing vaginal bleeding. The next afternoon, Rosie was unable to get out of bed. She asked a friend to take her to the hospital where in spite of heroic efforts, doctors were unable to save her life.
The doctors reported the death to the CDC, the CDC notified their allies in the abortion lobby, and Rosie's death was quickly trumpeted nationwide as proof that Henry Hyde was a murderer and taxpayers should immediately resume funding elective abortions to prevent another such death.
What is particularly telling in Rosie's death is that prochoice groups had been very successful in spreading the word that public funding for abortion had been cut -- Rosie's friend and cousin, as well as her physician, were well aware of this fact -- but they had pointedly failed to also pass out the word that Planned Parenthood still referred for abortions on a sliding scale, and that private funds were available. It's almost as if the public-relations departments of Planned Parenthood and other abortion-advocacy groups had deliberately increased the odds of a tragedy like Rosie's death in order to provide the corpses needed in order to prop up a drive to restore tax monies to abortion facilities.
Frankfort was particularly disgusted with the response of public health officials, who likewise simply announced Rosie's death and began a call to restore abortion funding, but made no effort to close down the illegal abortion practice where Rosie had undergone her fatal abortion.
Frankfort took it upon herself to orchestrate a sting, with local law enforcement. She coordinated a dramatic raid that put the lay abortionist out of business.
"The FIRST!" Of how many?
And what of the hysteria? Had it been justified? Was Rosie's death the first of a new trend of women dead from being "forced" to resort to criminal abortionists?
There was indeed a small spike in reported illegal abortion deaths after the Hyde Amendment (from 2 in 1976 to 4 in 1977 to 7 in 1978). But there was likewise a spike in reported legal abortion deaths as well -- a far larger spike, from 11 in 1976 to 17 in 1977. (I don't believe that the CDC's reported death numbers are accurate, but they're all we have to work with, and more to the point, abortion supporters place great faith in them.)
Lest abortion rights activists attribute this jump to women having later abortions because they need time to get funds, we'll note that the trend toward earlier abortions continued unabated, as this chart based on one by the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows:
Despite predictions of a surge in carnage from criminal abortions, a study by the Centers for Disease Control, "The Effect of Restricting Public Funds for Legal Abortion," found "no evidence of a statistically significant increase in the number of complications from illegal abortions." In fact, they found that while there was no change in the illegal abortion complications, there was a significant decrease in publicly funded hospitalizations for legal abortion complications in cities where funding was restricted, compared to cities in areas where state or local government picked up the tab for elective abortions.
In other words, cutting funds for elective abortions actually had a measurable positive impact: Fewer women were ending up hospitalized for complications of elective abortions. Which strikes me as a good thing, personally.
So was Rosie's death a fluke? Probably not. The heavy publicity put out by the prochoice movement about how poor women would be "forced" to resort to dangerous criminal abortions probably left Rosie, and some others like her, with the mistaken impression that criminal abortion (rather than birth or even sliding-scale legal abortion) was their only option.
I agree with abortion advocates that the death of Rosie Jiminez was avoidable. But I disagree with them that lack of public funding was to blame. Prochoice organizations had ample opportunity to tout other resources. Prochoice people all around Rosie had opportunities to steer her toward a "safe and legal" abortion, had they chosen to do so. Not a one of them did. And the bigger problem was that nobody ever seemed to entertain the notion that abortion might not be the answer in the first place.
What's additionally puzzling about this whole turn of events is that the facility to which Planned Parenthood referred abortion patients charged only $130 for an abortion for poor women, just $10 more than Rosie paid for the amateur abortion that took her life. It's difficult to believe that a $10 price difference put the legal abortion out of Rosies's reach, especially if we consider that the day before her abortion she'd spent $8 on a cake for a friend's baby shower, and when she died she had a $800 scholarship check in her purse.
Rosie Jimenez remains a poster child of the abortion lobby. Their own role in her death is never acknowledged. Henry Hyde is blamed instead -- in spite of his key role in passing a law that reduced abortion injuries among women like Rosie, and in reducing complications, surely also reduced abortion deaths -- in spite of the abortion lobby's best efforts.
For more abortion deaths, visit the Cemetery of Choice.