Thursday, July 23, 2020

Safe and Legal in 1961

Erika Peterson, age 28, was admitted to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California on July 11, 1961, due to trouble breathing. She was diagnosed with pneumonia and placed in a tank respirator. Erika was at that time in the first trimester of pregnancy. Her physicians made the decision to abort her child as soon as she was well enough to undergo the abortion. Abortion was, at that time, legal only to try to save the life of the mother.

On July 21, Erika's condition had improved, and her husband signed the consent form for the abortion, which was scheduled to take place two days later.

The abortion was started as scheduled on July 23. Erika went into cardiac arrest during the procedure and was unable to be resuscitated. The abortion that was intended to save her life ended her life instead.

After autopsy, it was believed that Erika's original illness was caused by a hereditary disease that was exacerbated by the medications she was taking for her schizophrenia.

Erika's was not the only tragic death caused by doctors who recommended (or excused) abortion as a life-saving or health-preserving option for the mother:
  • Allegra Roseberry was falsely told that she had to abort her baby in order to be eligible for an experimental cancer treatment 
  • Anjelica Duarte sought an abortion on the advice of her physician, and ended up dying under the care of a quack.
  • Barbara Hoppert died after an abortion recommended due to a congenital heart problem.
  • Christin Gilbert died after an abortion George Tiller holds was justified on grounds of maternal health.
  • "Molly" Roe died in 1975 when her doctors made the dubious decision to perform a saline abortion to improve her chances of surviving a lupus crisis.
Doctors will sometimes push for an abortion due to maternal conditions that do not make pregnancy nearly as risky as the woman is led to believe. Dr. Thomas Murphy Goodwin wrote about several examples in "Medicalizing Abortion Decisions," First Things, March, 1996:

Case #1: A 21-year-old woman, 19 weeks pregnant, had been referred for "immediate abortion" after being diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. The patient was very distraught at the thought of aborting her baby so she was referred to Goodwin's practice for a second opinion. A second medical evaluation found that the patient's heart condition was mild and she was able to continue her pregnancy and have her baby.

Case #2: A 25-year-old woman, 12 weeks pregnant, was diagnosed with narrowing of a heart valve. Her physician recommended abortion, but Goodwin's practice suggested that the woman have a procedure done to correct the heart condition, since it could be performed safely during pregnancy. Her doctor expressed concerns about his liability if the patient did not abort. Goodwin did not learn of the final outcome of this woman's pregnancy.

Case #3: A 38-year-old woman, 11 weeks pregnant, was referred by her pastor. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was told that she should abort her baby so that she could undergo chemotherapy and actually had the abortion scheduled. Goodwin's practice reviewed the chemotherapy regimen with her and explained that though the long-term effects were unknown, it seemed to be well tolerated by the fetus when administered in pregnancy. The patient's doctor did not want to assume liability for the case so Goodwin's practice managed her chemotherapy. She delivered a healthy baby.

Case #4: A 20-year-old woman, 18 weeks pregnant, was diagnosed with kidney disease that seemed to be due to a new onset of lupus. Her doctor recommended that she undergo an abortion, both for her own health and to avoid any harm that might come to the fetus due to medications. The patient did not want to abort her baby. Goodwin's practice told her that although her chances of carrying her baby successfully to term were slim due to her condition, abortion would have an unpredictable effect on her own health. The patient was able to continue her pregnancy. Goodwin's practice repeatedly had to demonstrate to other physicians that certain diagnostic tests they wanted to do would not be likely to harm the baby and thus could safely be performed during pregnancy. The patient was thus able to pursue care for her own condition without having to abort her baby. Sadly, she went into premature labor at 27 weeks and her baby subsequently died from infection at one week of age.

Goodwin lamented that many women wound up undergoing unwanted abortions of wanted babies because they were misinformed by their doctors. Some of these doctors were merely -- albeit inexcusably -- ignorant, but others recommended abortion purely to avoid potential liability. This sort of bullying into unwanted abortions should be common ground for people all across the political spectrum.

No comments: