Monday, October 03, 2022

October 3, 1977: The Death that Delighted Abortion Enthusiasts

 In 1976, the Hyde Amendment went into effect, banning the use of Federal funds to pay for abortions except to save the mother from an immediate threat to her life. The measure was named for its author, Congressman Henry Hyde. Abortion advocates had been keening from the moment the Hyde Amendment was up for vote. They painted a ghastly picture of coathanger-impaled women littering the streets as poor women were driven to desperation by lack of "access".

When the Hyde Amendment went into effect, abortion advocates ramped up the hysteria and waited for a death, any death, they could hang around Henry Hyde's neck. 

On October 3, 1977, the abortion advocacy vultures got what they'd been waiting for: a dead woman they could use as leverage in the fight to once again force taxpayers to fund elective abortions. 

Undated yearbook photo of Rosie
Their triumph started playing out on September 26, 1977, when 27-year-old Rosaura "Rosie" Jimenez had shown up at the emergency room of McAllen General Hospital in the Texas border town of McAllen.

She was overwhelmingly sick with septic shock. However, she denied having had an abortion, instead telling the doctors that her period had just started that day. 

Her uterus was enlarged, but due to guarding (resisting pressing on an area due to pain) the doctors had a hard time determining the size. Her cervix was dilated enough that they could insert a ring forceps. She had a dark bloody discharge. She was clearly suffering from a septic abortion.

She was immediately started on IV penicillin and fluids. Doctors performed a D&C to remove any infected material from her uterus. An examination of the tissue confirmed that she had been pregnant.

Rosie's condition deteriorated. She was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. She became jaundiced and developed a rash that covered her trunk and upper thighs. Her pulse increased to 160/minute. Her hemoglobin dropped, as did her urine output. 

Doctors performed a hysterectomy during her second day in the hospital, which seemed to improve her condition slightly. However, six hours later she suffered heart failure. She was treated aggressively in efforts to prevent edema, address her clotting problems, and defeat the infection. Eventually doctors performed a tracheotomy and put Rosie on a ventilator.

In spite of these efforts, she died on October 3 from renal and cardiac failure caused by disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (failure of the blood to clot properly) triggered by gas gangrene from a criminal abortion. She left behind a four-year-old daughter.

The initial response of the abortion lobby to news of Rosie's death was little short of euphoric. They had their trophy, their dead woman whose story they could leverage, they hoped, into the restoration of tax money flowing into abortion clinics. They've never stopped using Rosie's death to advocate for cheap, readily available abortions.

A Voice in the Wilderness

One voice stood out from the crowd: Ellen Frankfort, author of Rosie: the investigation of a wrongful death. Frankfort was disgusted with the bulk of the prochoice movement, who seemed content to make note of Rosie's death and then milk it for political gain. She began an investigation into what had led Rosie to her death, and she found a lot that neither the Centers for Disease Control nor abortion advocacy organizations had been willing to look for, since all they'd wanted was political leverage. They weren't looking for the real culprit behind Rosie's death: they'd had a bogeyman in mind even before she'd died, in the form of Henry Hyde.

Off to McAllen Frankfort went, to learn all she could.

The Whole Story

Rosie was one of 12 children of migrant farm workers. A single mother on welfare, she and a friend, Diana Rivera, moved into adjacent apartments to encourage each other to complete schooling and build better lives for themselves and their young children. Rosie planned to become a special education teacher.

Rosie's efforts to better her life, however, did not extend to her choice in men. Her long term boyfriend, Jesse, was in prison. 

Rosie had already undergone two abortions at taxpayer expense, one performed by her private ob/gyn, the second at a facility Rosie had been referred to by a local Planned Parenthood. She had become pregnant prior to both of these abortions after stopping her birth control pills on the advice of a physician.

In September of 1977, she suspected that she was again pregnant, and consulted with a cousin and a friend, who told her that Medicaid would no longer pay for elective abortions.

Rosie had also gone to her family physician, Dr. Homer, for treatment of pain in her sternum on September 19. She mentioned that she might be pregnant. He did not arrange for a pregnancy test or discuss her options with her in any way, but simply informed her that Medicaid would no longer pay for abortions, and let it rest at that. A referral seemed to have been in order, either to a prolife center that would help her with the expenses of continuing the pregnancy, or to the local Planned Parenthood, that could arrange an abortion on a sliding scale and could possibly help her tap into private funds for elective abortions. Dr. Homer effectively abandoned his patient.

The week of September 19, Rosie went to Reynosa, Mexico for some sort of injection to cause an abortion. She had the injection at a pharmacy, and paid $5. When the first injection didn't have the desired effect she returned for a second one. This one left her experiencing nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fainting but failed to dislodge the fetus.

On September 25, Rosie consulted with her cousin, saying that she wanted to find a cheap abortionist quickly. At 7:00 that evening Rosie's cousin brought her to Maria Pineda, a lay midwife in McAllen, who charged $120 to insert a catheter into Rosie's uterus. Fifteen minutes later, she sent Rosie home.

Rosie had pain and cramping upon returning home. Over the next 12 hours, she developed an increasing fever, and had nausea, vomiting, chills, dizziness, and increasing vaginal bleeding. The next afternoon, Rosie was unable to get out of bed. She asked a friend to take her to the hospital where in spite of heroic efforts, doctors were unable to save her life.

The Reaction

Even the Centers for Disease Control, supposedly politically neutral public servants, were poised to place blame on the Hyde Amendment for whatever ill-advised decisions were made in its wake. Rosie's doctors reported the death to the CDC, the CDC notified their allies in the abortion lobby, and Rosie's death was quickly trumpeted nationwide as proof that Henry Hyde was a murderer and taxpayers should immediately resume funding elective abortions to prevent another such death. 

What is particularly telling in Rosie's death is that prochoice groups had been very successful in spreading the word that public funding for abortion had been cut -- Rosie's friend and cousin, as well as her physician, were well aware of this fact -- but they had pointedly failed to also pass out the word that Planned Parenthood still referred for abortions on a sliding scale, and that private funds were available. It's almost as if the public-relations departments of Planned Parenthood and other abortion-advocacy groups had deliberately increased the odds of a tragedy like Rosie's death in order to provide the corpses needed in order to prop up a drive to restore tax monies to abortion facilities.

Frankfort was particularly disgusted with the response of public health officials, who likewise simply announced Rosie's death and began a call to restore abortion funding, but made no effort to close down the illegal abortion practice where Rosie had undergone her fatal abortion. 

Frankfort took it upon herself to orchestrate a sting. She coordinated a dramatic raid, in partnership with Rosie's close friend Diana Rivera, that put the lay abortionist out of business.

The Sting

In June of 1978, nine months after Rosie's death, Diana, accompanied by a friend, went to Pineda's house. The friend was wearing a concealed microphone. Ellen Frankfort and Frances Kissing, then head of the National Abortion Federation, along with a Dallas television crew, listened in from a station wagon parked outside. 

Diana said that she was pregnant, needed to get an abortion quickly before her father found out she was pregnant, and couldn't afford to go to a doctor. Pineda quoted a price of $125 -- $5 more than she'd charged Rosie -- and told Diana to return at 1:30 the following afternoon.

Diana returned the next day, wired with the microphone. She paid the midwife using marked bills.

Pineda took her into a room with a cot and a bed and locked the door. Medical instruments were sitting in a jar of dirty water. Diana later said that she was crying and shaking, thinking of how just nine months ago her dear friend had sat in that same room, looking at those same dirty instruments, and had gone through with the abortion that ended her life.

To stall for time, Diana asked Pineda to describe what she was going to do. Pineda said that she would insert what Diana described as a filthy red rubber hose, which would cause bleeding. Like many safe-and-legal abortionists, Rivera instructed Diana to return to her rather than go to a doctor if she suffered complications. In the event that she did end up seeing a doctor, Rivera told her, make sure she claimed that she'd gotten her illegal abortion in Mexico. She then told Diana to take off her clothes and lie down on the bed.

That was when Kissling, listening from the station wagon, ran to a phone booth to call the police.

When the police arrived, Rivera hid the catheter in her bra and pushed her instruments and patient into a bathroom. Police still arrested her, along with the women who had orchestrated the sting. They were questioned for hours but finally released. Diana later said that when she was sitting in the police station, she cried and cried, saying "Rosie, we got her."

A Disappointing Outcome

Diana's excitement was short-lived. Rivera, who had killed a woman by performing a criminal abortion, was only convicted of practicing medicine without a license. This was a mere Class A misdemeanor. She served three days in jail and paid a $100 fine -- less than she'd charged Rosie for the abortion that had killed her.

"The FIRST!" Of how many?

And what of the hysteria? Had it been justified? Was Rosie's death the first of a new trend of women dead from being "forced" to resort to criminal abortionists?

There was indeed a small spike in reported illegal abortion deaths after the Hyde Amendment (from 2 in 1976 to 4 in 1977 to 7 in 1978). But there was likewise a spike in reported legal abortion deaths as well -- a far larger spike, from 11 in 1976 to 17 in 1977. (I don't believe that the CDC's reported death numbers are accurate, but they're all we have to work with, and more to the point, abortion supporters place great faith in them.)

Lest abortion rights activists attribute this jump to women having later abortions because they need time to get funds, we'll note that the trend toward earlier abortions continued unabated, as this chart based on one by the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows:

Despite predictions of a surge in carnage from criminal abortions, a study by the Centers for Disease Control, "The Effect of Restricting Public Funds for Legal Abortion," found "no evidence of a statistically significant increase in the number of complications from illegal abortions." In fact, they found that while there was no change in the illegal abortion complications, there was a significant decrease in publicly funded hospitalizations for legal abortion complications in cities where funding was restricted, compared to cities in areas where state or local government picked up the tab for elective abortions.

In other words, cutting funds for elective abortions actually had a measurable positive impact: Fewer women were ending up hospitalized for complications of elective abortions. Which strikes me as a good thing, personally. But the CDC remained adamantly in favor of funding elective abortions, asserting in the 1977 Abortion Surveillance Summary, "For at least 1 woman, the non-availability of public funds led to a situation in which she was forced to choose the less-safe illegal abortion because of financial factors." Like the abortion lobby they serve, they never took into account that Rosie had the money to pay for a legal abortion, available on a sliding scale. They especially never considered the possibility that Rosie could get support to continue both her pregnancy and her education. 

The Verdict

So was Rosie's death a fluke? Probably not. The heavy publicity put out by the prochoice movement about how poor women would be "forced" to resort to dangerous criminal abortions probably left Rosie, and some others like her, with the mistaken impression that criminal abortion (rather than birth or even sliding-scale legal abortion) was their only option. Only after the sting, when Frankfort and Rosie's friends banded together, were abortion funds publicized and new ones started. While I recognize the noble motives of women such as Rosie's friends, I retain cynicism about the motives of abortion-rights organizations, for whom these funds serve to funnel money into the pockets of their major donors -- abortion practitioners.

I agree with abortion advocates that the death of Rosie Jimenez was avoidable. But I disagree with them that lack of public funding was to blame. Prochoice organizations had ample opportunity to tout other resources. Prochoice people all around Rosie had opportunities to steer her toward a "safe and legal" abortion, had they chosen to do so. Not a one of them did. And the bigger problem was that nobody ever seemed to entertain the notion that abortion might not be the answer in the first place.

What's additionally puzzling about this whole turn of events is that the facility to which Planned Parenthood referred abortion patients charged only $130 for an abortion for poor women, just $10 more than Rosie paid for the amateur abortion that took her life. 

It's difficult to believe that a $10 price difference put the legal abortion out of Rosie's reach, especially if we consider that the day before her abortion she'd spent $8 on a cake for a friend's baby shower, and when she died she had a $800 scholarship check in her purse. In spite of her friend Diana's urging, Rosie refused to use any money from that check. Diana said that she'd offered to help Rosie come up with the money for a non-subsidized abortion, perhaps with a bake sale. But Rosie had for some reason rejected this help and had gone to Rivera while Diana was out of town visiting her mother.

Rosie Jimenez remains a poster child of the abortion lobby. Their own role in her death is never acknowledged. Henry Hyde is blamed instead -- in spite of his key role in passing a law that reduced abortion injuries among women like Rosie, and in reducing complications, surely also reduced abortion deaths -- in spite of the abortion lobby's best efforts.

As recently as 2021, the abortion lobby put Rosie's daughter on the front page in an effort to promote the abortion lobby. They claim that their motive is to prevent unsafe abortions, but given their appalling opposition to any efforts to ensure that legal abortions are performed safely, I doubt their motives.

Watch "Rosie: The Creation of a Poster Child" on YouTube.


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