Friday, March 08, 2019

March 8: Deliberate Incomplete Abortion Kills Teen



SUMMARY: Rita McDowell, age 16, died March 8, 1975 after an abortion performed by Robert Sherman at Columbia Family Planning Clinic in Washington, DC.

On March 4, 1975, Robert Julius Sherman (pictured, left) performed a safe and legal abortion on Rita, who was in the second trimester of her pregnancy. Rather than admit her to the hospital for the then-standard saline abortion, Sherman performed a vacuum aspiration abortion usually used for first trimester abortions. When Rita was discharged, her mother was informed that she would probably expel the fetus that night. As they left the office, Rita told her mother, "Oh, Mama, I feel like I had one hundred needles in me."

Rita did not expel the fetus. Instead, she developed a fever. Her mother called Sherman's facility on March 5 to seek care for her daughter. She said that Sherman would not speak to her, and that the receptionist told her to bring Rita in two days later.

In the early morning hours of March 7, Rita awoke screaming, then collapsed in her mother's arms. Doctors at the hospital where Rita was taken removed the macerated fetus, but she died from massive infection just after midnight on March 8.

An investigation into Rita's death revealed evidence that Sherman deliberately performed incomplete abortions so that he could charge more for follow-up care. Sherman was charged with murder in Rita's death, and prosecutors presented witnesses and evidence that Sherman re-used disposable medical equipment, failed to perform tests to verify pregnancy, failed to do pathology examinations of abortion tissues, allowed a nurse's aide to perform surgery, and falsified medical records.

Testimony during his trial indicated that Sherman would send patients home with green plastic trash bags to collect fetuses that they expelled at home after their incomplete abortions.

After the trial ended in a hung jury, Sherman pleaded guilty to 25 counts of perjury in exchange for dropping the murder charge in Rita's death.

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