Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Safe and Legal Anniversaries: Maria Ortega, Erna Fisher, and Catherine Pierce

Twenty-three-year-old Maria Hernandez Ortega was a Guatemalan citizen who had been living in the United States for eight months in October of 1970. She had originally lived in Queens, then moved to Boston in August. When she discovered that she was pregnant, she returned to Queens to stay with friends so that she could have a legal abortion. She was referred to Dr. Armida Zepeta. Maria went to Zepeta's New York office on October 10, 1970. Zeptea estimated the pregnancy to be two months. She attempted an abortion, but was unable to extract the fetus. She concluded that Maria had not been pregnant after all, and sent her on her way.

Maria went back to her friend's home, accompanied by a male companion. Three hours later, at 10:00 that night, Maria died. It turned out that she had actually been four months pregnant, not two months. Zepeta had pushed the fetus through the uterine wall into Maria's abdominal cavity.

The pathologist who performed the autopsy told the Daily News, "This could have been avoided if this woman had been aborted in a hospital, because she could have been operated on immediately for the ruptured uterus and, with blood transfusions, her life would have been saved.*

Eighteen-year-old Erna Fisher's mother held her hand as Dennis W. Miller performed an abortion on her on March 10, 1988. During the abortion, Erna suddenly sat up, went into convulsions, and began to vomit. Miller continued with the abortion while Erna choked to death on her own vomit. When an ambulance crew arrived, they found Erna's airway still full of vomit. Miller was making no attempt at resuscitation, but was holding Erna in his arms.

Miller had already settled six malpractice cases in the Kansas City area. He had failed the Missouri state medical exam three times before finally giving up. It took nine tries for him to pass the exam to be licensed in Kansas.

October 10, 1989, 27-year-old Catherine Pierce died in a nursing home in Tennessee from abortion complications that had left her comatose since March 11. She left an 11-year-old daughter motherless. The abortion was performed at Atlanta Surgi-Center, which had at one time also done business as "Northside Women's Clinic," and was performed by Daniel McBrayer. Catherine had gone into cardiac arrest while left unattended in recovery after her abortion. State officials alleged "serious problems" after Peirce was injured. They cited this National Abortion Federation facility for administering "the same anesthesia dosages" to patients whose weights ranges from 107 to 167 pounds, inadequate record keeping, and inadequate supervision of patients.

It is possible that Atlanta Surgi-Center is the same facility as the "Atlanta Northside" facility where Geneva Calton had undergone her fatal abortion in 1979.

 *Additional source on Maria's death:
"First Abortion Death Here Under New Law Reported," New York Daily News, October 17, 1970

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