Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Years Eve, 1986: Plunked into Wheelchair, Shoved Out the Door to Die

Eighteen-year-old Sylvia Jane Moore underwent a safe and legal abortion at the hands of 50-year-old Arnold Bickham on December 31, 1986 at his Urgent Medical Care Clinic in Chicago. She was in the second trimester of her pregnancy, but Bickham used a suction technique suitable for a first-trimester pregnancy. After the abortion, Bickham gave Sylvia repeated injections of Demerol because she was reporting severe abdominal cramps.

According to her mother, Sylvia was bleeding, weak, incoherent, and unable to walk after five hours at the clinic. Bickham tried several times to lift Sylvia to her feet, but she repeatedly collapsed. Bickham called her "lazy," put her in a wheelchair, and physically ejected her from his Chicago clinic. 

Sylvia's mother took her to Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, where staff tried in vain to save the young woman, who had arrived with no pulse and no blood pressure. An emergency hysterectomy was done to remove her lacerated uterus, which still had a plastic instrument embedded in a 6.5 cm laceration. Sylvia also had a 2.2 cm laceration of her vagina. Despite the surgery, she bled to death.

Bickham claimed that he "didn't think there was anything wrong" with Sylvia, and said that he'd merely been helping her with the wheelchair. He could not explain why he didn't think there was anything wrong with a patient so weak that she couldn't walk out to the car.

He blamed Sylvia's death on the hospital, saying, "They were successful in repairing the damage done in the abortion, but in doing that, they perforated an artery causing there to be blood loss in the chest cavity." 

The autopsy report, however, noted the chest tube incision but noted "lungs are well expanded and the pleural cavities are free of fluid and adhesions." An attorney with the Department of Professional Regulation said, "This patient should never have been allowed to leave Bickham's clinic with her mother. She should have left in an ambulance."

The postmortem report said: "The circumstances of injury, review of the Medical records, the findings at autopsy examination, and subsequent investigation of the circumstances of the case provide evidence of gross negligence and abandonment on the part of the original treating physician. In consideration of the above, the manner of death is determined to be Homicide."

No charges were pressed against Bickham. His attorney claimed that the actions against Bickham were a racist witch hunt, saying, "He's a black man who did an abortion and he's an ex-felon. That's strike one, two, and three."

Somehow the fact that Sylvia was also Black didn't seem to matter.

The suit filed by Sylvia's survivors noted that Bickham had failed to perform an ultrasound, and failed to have adequate staff or equipment. The specimen of abortion tissue sent from clinic contained segments of placental tissue, umbilical cord, and fetal intestinal parts and liver.

Sylvia left one child motherless.

Bickham's license was revoked by Illinois in October of 1988 due to Sylvia's death. The medical board had concluded that Bickham had performed the abortion "without adequate support staff and emergency equipment, and failed to recognize symptoms of abdominal bleeding...." He was arrested in September of 1989 for practicing medicine without license, and sentenced to 30 months probation and 2,600 hours of community service in lieu of 6 months jail, in addition to a $10,000 fine. 

Sylvia's mother found his punishment far too lenient. "I don't want to see this happen to any other mother."

Bickham had been a prolific abortionist, and in 1974 had been the highest-paid doctor in the country's Medicaid program, with total reimbursements of $192,266 (over $4 million in 2020 dollars). His medical license had been put on probation in 1979 after he had been caught performing abortions on women who had not actually been pregnant. That same year he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for defrauding the government out of job training funds.

Fortunately, Bickham eventually hung up his canula. On the downside, he became a pubic school administrator, still in a position where his poor judgment might cause harm but at least not death to any more children or young women. 

Watch Teen Shoved Out the Door to Die on YouTube.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came across his obituary a short while back.