Tuesday, June 14, 2022

June 14, 1991: Fatal Abortionist Better Than No Abortionist At All?

Angela Hall, a 27-year-old mother of five, felt unable to deal with a sixth child. She saw an advertisement for safe, legal abortion at Thomas Tucker's office in Alabama.  The ad, which pictured a couple walking arm-in-arm, said that Tucker did abortions to 24 weeks. Angela called to schedule an appointment. 

Angela was keeping the abortion a secret from her mother, and drove to Tucker's Birmingham clinic with a friend, Annette Wilson. One of Tucker's employees, Joy Davis, screened Angela and felt that she had risk factors that made abortion in an office setting unsafe. She had a fever and was anemic. Joy got on the phone with Tucker and indicated that she felt that Angela should be referred to a hospital. Tucker told Davis that "we need the money. Just do it. Just put the patient through." 

Tucker ordered her to prep Angela, who was in the second trimester of pregnancy. The fee for Angela's abortion was $1,800. She was already unconscious, under general anesthesia, when Tucker started the abortion on June 11, 1991. Angela started gasping for breath. Her blood pressure fell, setting off an alarm on a piece of monitoring equipment. Tucker told Davis to turn the alarm off because other patients could hear it. "It was a very panicked atmosphere," Joy Davis said. "Dr. Tucker was screaming at us." He managed to stabilize Angela's blood pressure and sent her to the recovery room.

While in recovery, Angela bled so heavily that Davis became alarmed and called an ambulance. "Blood was running down the table," Joy Davis tearfully told reporters. "It was pooling in the floor and running down behind her back." Angela's sheets and hospital gown were soaked. Davis said that Tucker told her that he was the doctor and if anybody was going to make a decision to call the ambulance, it was going to be him.

Davis reported to Tucker that Angela was bleeding through the packing put in place after the abortion, and asked him to do something for his patient.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked her. 

"I don't know," Davis said she responded, "but I want you to do something. She's going to lay here and die."

"Fine. Call the f*ing ambulance," Tucker said before leaving the building, according to Davis. He was loath to call an ambulance, Davis reported, because he had already referred a patient to a hospital that day for complications. 

Angela was taken to the hospital, where she suffered respiratory failure, clotting, and sepsis. It was hours after she was admitted that her friend finally called her mother, in hysterics, to say that Angela was being taken to the Intensive Care Unit. Annette didn't mention the abortion. Angela's mother rushed to the hospital, where she saw her daughter hooked up to tubes, pale, and breathing only faintly. 

She died just before midnight June 14. The autopsy found numerous tears and lesions in the pelvic area, and congestive necrosis in Angela's liver and spleen. The doctors concluded that amniotic fluid embolism had caused clotting problems resulting in necrosis, septic shock, and cardiac arrest. 

When Alabama authorities subpoenaed Angela's records, Tucker ordered Davis to destroy some and falsify others. Davis tore up the records, which he then tried to burn in an ash tray, Davis said. When this set off the clinic's smoke alarm, Tucker put out the fire, bagged up the papers, and told Davis to take the papers to the basement and burn them. Instead, she said, she taped them back together and eventually turned them over to the medical board. 

During the initial investigation, the board learned that Tucker allowed his untrained staff to do medical procedures, including inserting the laminaria sticks to dilate a patient's cervix prior to the abortion, while he wasn't even in-state much less at the clinic.

Tucker surrendered his medical license in order to halt the investigation, planning to renew his license at a later date.

It is interesting to note that in the publicity surrounding the lawsuit filed by Angela's family, Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, among other prochoice groups, balked at efforts to close Tucker down, on the grounds that he was Alabama's only abortionist, and that even he was better than no abortionist at all.

Angela's parents took their five grandchildren into their two-bedroom house. Her youngest child has no memories of his mother, only of taking flowers to her grave.


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