Sunday, August 07, 2022

August 7, 1979: One of Four Deaths at Miami Clinic

Ruth Montero, age 23, underwent a safe and legal vacuum abortion of her 8-week pregnancy, under general anesthesia in August of 1979, at Women's Care Center in Miami. Ruth awoke from anesthesia in the recovery room, then went into convulsions and cardiopulmonary arrest. 

The abortion had been performed by Dr. Elisa Avila. Avila told police that she had attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but when this failed to revive her patient she called Miami Fire Rescue.

Ruth died from hemorrhage and a prolapsed mitral valve on August 7. 

She was the first of four women to die after abortions there.

The clinic was owned by 53-year-old Hipolito Barreiro, trained in Argentina and West Africa, but not licensed in U.S. Barreiro was accused of practicing without a license and tampering with witness -- but not until after three more women died: Maura Morales in May of 1981, Myrta Baptiste in December of 1982, and Shirley Payne in January of 1983. Myrta and Shirley died within three weeks of each other.

The deaths of four women in such a short time in one abortion facility was even enough to capture the attention of state officials, who got a judge to sign an order closing the clinic down. Police seized records. Barreiro was charged with manslaughter for Shirley's death.

The Centers for Disease Control moved in to investigate and declared that Myrta Baptiste's abortion was actually an illegal abortion, not the safe and legal kind, because Dr. Orlando Zaldivar's license was expired at the time he performed it. Interestingly enough, CDC officials didn't consider this rash of abortion deaths worth mentioning in their 1982-1983 Abortion Surveillance Summary.

The string of deaths also captured the attention of the Florida Abortion Council, a group of abortion clinic owners who organized to fight against health and safety regulations of abortion clinics. Their success in blocking regulation in 1978 left the door open for Ruth's death. Their further success in 1980 allowed the quackery that killed Maura, Myrta, and Shirley, along with other women who died from quackery in other Florida facilities over the years, including:


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