Friday, November 11, 2022

Robin's Ordeal at Bill Baird Center, 1980

There was drama in the courtroom in 1984 when a woman filing as Jane Doe brought her case against Dr. Don Jaffe (John Roe 161) and Bill Baird Center, aka Parents' Aid Society Inc., in Boston, Massachusetts. A juror fainted during opening arguments while the defense attorney described the medical risks of abortion.

Mark Crutcher called the young woman "Robin" in Lime 5, so I will use that name as well.

Robin had been 17 years old when her sister accompanied her to Bill Baird Center in Massachusetts for an abortion in 1980. She said that she had reluctantly decided upon an abortion because "I was in school. I was too young and I felt I was a baby myself." She hadn't even told her boyfriend she was pregnant. She intended to keep the abortion a secret, especially not wanting her father to know. "I knew he'd be upset," she said. "My father didn't really think too highly of abortions. I was going to tell him afterwards. He might talk me out of it."

The clinic was owned by abortion-rights activist Bill Baird, who had successfully pushed for underage girls to be able to get abortions without parental knowledge or consent.

Dr. Jaffe (John Roe 161) was a head and neck specialist who worked part time at the clinic.  He examined Robin and told her that she was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant based on last menstrual period and an examination. The clinic did not have an ultrasound machine for Jaffe to confirm his impression.

Jaffe started using a first-trimester abortion technique. Robin's sister, whom I'll call "Wendy" was allowed to stay with Robin in the procedure room.

Once Jaffe started he realized that the baby was bigger than he'd originally thought -- at least 17 weeks of gestation. Nurse O'Neil said that Jaffe let Robin choose whether to finish the abortion at the clinic or go to the hospital. "He told her if he could not get the last fetal part out, she would have to go to the hospital. It was becoming painful. She stated it was painful. There was a good amount of blood."

Jaffe's attorney said that his client had wanted to stop fifteen minutes into the procedure but that Robin had insisted he go ahead, saying, "If my family finds out about this, there will be all sorts of trouble."  Robin, on the other hand, cried as she testified, "The pain was unbearable. He still wouldn't stop... He informed me he was sorry it would cost me a lot of money (if he didn't continue)."

He struggled for over an hour to perform the abortion. As Jaffe struggled to dismember and remove the unborn baby, Wendy said that she was going to faint and rushed into the hallway. Wendy said that Jaffe and nurse Margaret O'Neil followed her, leaving Robin in the procedure room unattended.

Jaffe called several local hospitals before returning to the bloody procedure room. He attempted to finish the abortion with the instruments he had on hand, which were only suitable for earlier abortions. At some point, Robin "jumped with pain," causing the uterine perforation, O'Neil said. That was the point at which Jaffe decided to give up, according to O'Neil.

He walked Robin down two flights of stairs and hailed a taxi to transport her to Brigham and Women's Hospital. 

Doctors spent six hours operating on Robin to repair the damage, including a lacerated cervix and a perforated uterus and bladder. During surgery they transfused Robin with 13 units of blood. She was hospitalized for a month and her ability to bear children in the future was uncertain. 

Her baby had actually been 19 to 21 weeks in gestational age, based on the size of the head which Jaffe had left in the uterus and the hand, foot, internal organs, and spine of the baby, which Jaffe had brought to the hospital at some point. 

Jaffe's attorney, Allan Taylor, argued that Robin's injuries were her own fault: "She provided inaccurate and false information about when she had her last menstrual period and when she thought she had conceived." 

Taylor conceded that Jaffe had indeed sent Robin to the hospital by taxi but said Baird thought it would be faster than an ambulance. He also asserted that Jaffe had caused Robin "no severe damage."

The jury eventually sided with Robin and awarded her $530,000 in damages. Baird appealed the verdict, claiming that the abortion clinic, incorporated as a non-profit, was a charitable institution and thus should only be culpable for a maximum of $20,000 in damages. A judge agreed that the clinic's share of the award would be limited. Jaffe's insurance carrier would pay the remainder.


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