New York, 1970
Carmen Rodriguez was 31 years old when she underwent a 14-week saline abortion at Lincoln Hospital in New York City. A saline abortion was performed by injecting a strong, sterile salt solution into the amniotic fluid. The fetus would then swallow and inhale the fluid, causing internal bleeding. After the fetus died, the woman would go into labor.
Carmen 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.
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 legal abortion facilities were posing a danger to women. The 1970 liberalization of abortion had made New York an abortion mecca until the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling that abortionists could legally set up shop in any state of the union. In addition to Carmen, these are the women I know of who had the dubious benefit of dying from the newfangled safe-and-legal kind of abortion in pre-Roe New York:
- 1970: Pearl Schwier, Barbara Riley, "Amanda" Roe, Maria Ortega, and "Kimberly" Roe
- 1971: "Amy" Roe, "Andrea" Roe, "Sandra" Roe, "Anita" Roe, Margaret Smith, "Annie" Roe, "Audrey" Roe, "Vicki" Roe, "April" Roe, "Barbara" Roe, "Tammy" Roe, Carole Schaner, "Beth" Roe, and "Roseann" Roe
- 1972: "Connie" Roe, "Julie" Roe, "Robin" Roe, "Roxanne" Roe, and "Danielle" Roe
The bulk of these deaths were published in a report by the New York Health Department covering the period from June of 1970 through June of 1972.
Betty Hines was 21 years old when she was checked into Doctors Hospital in California for a safe, legal abortion to be performed by Dr. A. Mitchell on July 19, 1971. Mitchell had been her physician for three or four years. Betty was eight weeks pregnant. There didn't seem to be anything wrong during the procedure. Betty was transferred to the recovery room, when she suddenly went into cardio-respiratory arrest.
Mitchell theorized that perhaps Betty had died because of a bad vial of Inovar, because the next patient who was injected from that vial also went into cardiac arrest but was successfully resuscitated. Betty's autopsy, however, found no trace of Inovar in her system. A toxicology check was also done on the vial of medication, and found nothing wrong with the Inovar. Betty's death was attributed to massive intravascular sickling due to underlying sickle cell disorder. Other women who died of sickle cell crisis triggered by abortion include Margaret Davis and Barbara Hoppert.
Twenty-year-old Gail Ann Vroman had a safe and legal abortion performed on July 14, 1979, by New York abortionist Taskin Ratharathorn at Ft. Wayne Women's Health Organization. Within two hours, Gail was transferred to a nearby hospital. Gail died of massive infection on July 18. The coroner ruled that the death was caused by clostridium perfringens, or "gas gangrene."