Monday, October 24, 2011

Did laws kill Stella or save Deloris?

On October 24, 1917, 24-year-old Stella Ahern died at her Chicago home from an abortion performed by an unknown perpetrator. Lest we move too swiftly to blame Stella's death on laws, we should consider that there's over a 90% chance that her abortionist was a doctor or a midwife, and a less than about 2% chance that the person had no medical training at all. However, with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.

In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.

external image MaternalMortality.gif

The "What do you expect in the days before modern medicine?" excuse could have easily held water for Stella's abortionist. The same can't be said for the people responsible for the death of Deloris Smith. She was one of two teenage abortion patients who suffered fatal injuries at National Abortion Federation (NAF) member Atlanta Women's Pavillion on June 2, 1979.

NAF tells prospective patients:
What is a NAF Clinic? NAF is the professional association of
abortion providers in North America. .... In order to become a member,
a clinic must complete a rigorous application process. Member clinics
have agreed to comply with our standards for quality and care....
NAF periodically conducts site visits to confirm that our clinics
are in compliance with our guidelines.

The staff of Atlanta Women's Pavillion showed what a safe, legal NAF clinic is made of when 19-year-old Angela Scott stopped breathing in the recovery room. A nurse-anesthetist was administering anesthesia to 14-year-old Deloris Smith while Dr. Jacob Adams was performing her abortion. The nurse-anesthetist ran to assist in efforts to revive Angela, leaving Delores unattended with her anesthesia drip still running. This suggests that either AWP had no protocol for emergencies, or that nobody had been adequately trained to make sure that all patients, not just the most obviously distressed patient, was being provided with vital care.

After staff had resuscitated Angela and loaded her into an ambulance, they returned their attention to Delores, who had gone into cardio-respiratory arrest. Adams had accompanied Angela to the Grady Memorial Hospital, and staff refused to release Dolores to an ambulance until the physician had returned to discharge her. This resulted in a 30-minute delay, during which the ambulance crew was unable to attend to Delores or begin transporting her.

Angela lingered for a week in a coma before dying on June 11. Delores never regained consciousness and eventually was admitted to a nursing home, where she died of adult respiratory distress syndrome on October 24, 1979, some time after her fifteenth birthday.

The presumed safety of legality, and the presumed superior care of a NAF member clinic, did nothing to protect Angela and Deloris. Those who truly care about abortion safety, not just abortion legality, might to well to do their own independent oversight of local abortion facilities, and not trust high-profile lobbying groups to put the safety of the patients ahead of the political interests of their members.

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