Monday, January 04, 2021

January 4: A Reckoning After the Fourth Death

On January 4, 1983, Albert Payne got a phone call from a family friend, Debbie Manning, who worked at the emergency room at a Miami hospital. Debbie gave Albert some shocking news: His 33-year-old wife, Shirley Yvonne Payne, mother of their three children ages 3 to 12, was dead. She had bled to death from an abortion.

"No way my wife is pregnant," Albert had responded. He called the day care center. Shirley had never showed up to pick up the children.

Shirley had undergone what she expected to be a safe and legal abortion at Woman's Care Center in Miami. She was 16-18 weeks pregnant. Shirley suffered a perforated uterus. Dr. Hipolito Barreiro, who owned the clinic, made a frantic call to another doctor he knew, Nsibide Ipke, who had a practice 10 blocks from the clinic, wanting Ipke to come over and fill out clinic forms. "You've got to come sign. I'm not licensed."

Ipke, who said that he'd believed Barreiro to be licensed, went to the clinic to see what was going on and found Barreiro trying to attend to Shirley before calling an ambulance. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they reportedly found Shirley with an IV in her arm, lying on a couch, bleeding heavily. She had no blood pressure.

Shirley arrived at the hospital in critical condition due to delay of transfer. Barreiro had poked a hole in her uterus. An emergency hysterectomy was performed to try to save Shirley's life, but she bled to death in surgery at 5:12 p.m.. 

Trained in Argentina and West Africa, but not licensed in U.S. Barreiro evidently perpetrated Shirley's fatal abortion without documenting this fact on her clinic records.

Barreiro reportedly followed Dr. Ipke to the hospital and tracked him down, begging him to take responsibility for Shirley's death. Ipke recorded one conversation in which Barreiro made this plea and turned it over to the authorities. 

Shirley was the second patient from Barreiro's clinic to die in less than three weeks, and the fourth to die in less than four years. Myrtha Baptiste had died the previous December 18. Ruth Montero and Maura Morales also died from abortions at the clinic. 

After Shirley's death, authorities lamented that they were powerless to oversee abortion facilities in Florida. "We have no authority to look into sanitary conditions or whether a clinic's location is near a hospital," a licensing and certification official told a reporter for Florida Today. A clinic could only be investigated in the event of a complaint or a patient death, the official said, and that the only permissible grounds for state action would be if the abortion had been done by somebody other than a licensed physician.

While authorities told reporters that greater state oversight could protect women from unsavory abortion clinics, the clinic owners indicated that such a law would be a form of anti-abortion harassment. The Florida Abortion Council, an organization of abortion clinic owners, had gotten a US district court to strike down a 1980 Florida law that would have allowed state oversight.

While asserting that state oversight wasn't needed, FLAC representative Patricia Baird Windle said that FLAC had denied membership to Women's Care Clinic because of patient deaths in August of 1979 and 1981.

Because Barreiro had not been licensed, police were able to raid the clinic. Barreiro was charged with manslaughter in Shirley's death. He was also charged with practicing medicine without a license, abortion by an unlicensed physician, abortion by an unlicensed physician resulting in death, and witness tampering. 

Speaking about Shirley's death, Barreiro said, "God only knows how sorry I am." However, he denied any culpability. "I just came to surrender myself. I'm looking forward to the trial to prove my innocence." 

Like Suresh Gandotra and Lawson Akpolonu, Barreiro fled the country before he could be prosecuted.

Watch The Fourth Death Was the Last Straw on YouTube.

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