Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The Dreaded Complication Part 1

On August 2, 1981 the editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer was intrepid enough to publish a special report on babies that survive abortions: "The Dreaded Complication."

Baby Boy, Omaha, 1979

The piece opens describing an event in Omaha, Nebraska in September of 1979: "A woman's scream broke the late-night quiet and brought two young obstetrical nurses rushing to Room 4456 of the University of Nebraska Medical Center." The patient in that room was there for a saline abortion, initiated 30 hours earlier. "When nurse Marilyn Wilson flicked on the lights and pulled back the covers, she found, instead of the stillborn fetus she'd expected, a live 2 1/2 pound baby boy, crying and moving his arms and legs there on the bed."

A second nurse, Joanie Fuchs, snatched the infant up in some of the bedcovers and dashed down the hall, calling other nurses for help. "She did not take the baby to an intensive care nursery, but deposited it instead on the stainless steel drainboard of a sink in the maternity unit's Dirty Utility Room -- a large closet where bedpans are emptied and dirty linens stored." 

"Finally, a head nurse telephoned the patient's physician, Dr. C.J. LaBenz, at home, apparently waking him."

"'He told me to leave it where it was,' the head nurse testified later, 'just to watch it for a few minutes, that it would probably die in a few minutes.'"

It took the neglected child 2 1/2 hours to die. One hour for every pound the baby weighed.

Baby Girl, Florida, c. 1976

"A baby girl in Florida, rescued by nurses who found her lying in a bedpan, is 5 years old now and doing well."

How Often?

The story notes that "interviews with nurses, some of the visibly anguished, uncovered dozens of ... cases that never reached public attention." The authors postulated that "for every case that does become known, a hundred probably go unreported." They noted that Dr. Willard Cates of the CDC estimated 400 to 500 babies surviving abortions annually in the United States. 

"They are little known," the article continues, "because organized medicine, from fear of public clamor and legal action, treats them more as an embarrassment to be hushed up than a problem to be solved. 'It's like turning yourself in to the IRS for an audit,' Cates said. 'What is there to gain? The tendency is not to report because there are only negative incentives.'"

Staff Reactions

The authors note that many facilities don't have protocols for dealing with live births from abortions, and that staff might not follow the guidelines anyway. Typically the births take place when the doctor in charge of the abortion is not present, leaving nurses or other staff to make changes. Babies aren't assessed after abortions but are merely presumed to be dead unless they make obvious movements or sounds. "Even then, the medical personnel on the scene may let the baby die rather than try to save it."

The article goes on to note that such live births "are taking a heavy emotional toll on medical staffs across the country. Some physicians say they have 'burned out' and stopped doing abortions altogether. Nursing staffs at hospitals in Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere have rebelled at late abortions and have stopped their hospitals from performing any abortions later than the midpoint of pregnancy. Some staff members who regularly perform late abortions report having nightmares about fetuses, including recurring dreams in which they frantically seek to hide fetuses from others."

Legal Realities

The article wasn't quite accurate in how it characterized the treatment of post-viability fetuses under Roe v. Wade. It characterized the Supreme Court as "reserving the right to protect the life of a viable fetus," without noting that the companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, defined the mother's "health" so broadly as to make any restrictions meaningless. The authors did, however, note that "the court never directly acknowledged the chance of an aborted fetus' being born alive. And it therefore never gave a clear guideline for dealing with what Dr. Thomas Kerenyi, a leading New York expert on abortions, has called 'the dreaded complication.'"

"Twenty states ... have no laws limiting late abortions or mandating care for live-born abortion babies. Even where such state laws exist, they have usually been found unenforceable in practice or unconstitutional." This, I would add, is because the abortion lobby holds firm that a right to an abortion is not merely a right to "terminate a pregnancy." They have held that the death of the fetus -- regardless of whether it takes place in the womb or outside of the womb -- is an implicit characteristic of an abortion, and any steps taken to preserve the life of an abortion survivor is an assault on the right of the child's mother to abort the baby.

Phoenix Baby, March, 1981

Doctors attempting a 19 - 20 week at Valley Abortion Clinic in Phoenix initiated an abortion only to have the mother deliver a live 32-week infant weighing 2 1/2 pounds which required two months of intensive care.

Baby Boy, Chicago, May, 1981

An abortion at a Chicago facility on an estimated 19 - 20 week pregnancy resulted in the birth of a 2-pound baby boy.

Glasgow Baby, January, 1969

A custodian at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, heard a cry from a paper bag left in the snow beside the incinerator. Opening the bag he found a living infant of about 32 weeks gestational age. The baby's age had been estimated at 26 weeks and since the baby was supposed to be born dead nobody bothered checking to see if it was alive before putting it out in the snow to be incinerated. The child was provided with care but died nine hours later. Nobody was ever charged in the death of the baby.

Bakersfield Baby, April, 1973

Dr. Xavier Hall Ramirez (John Roe 602) initiated a saline abortion only to have the woman deliver a 4 1/2 pound infant. Nurses began providing care to the baby and called Ramirez, who ordered them to discontinue oxygen. Another doctor countermanded the order, and the baby survived to be adopted. Ramirez was indicted for solicitation to commit murder. Other doctors testified in his defense, including Dr. Irvin M. Cushner of the University of California at Los Angeles. This doctor, who went on to become a top health policy official under President Jimmy Carter, asserted that it was perfectly reasonable for Ramirez to expect a dead or moribund baby.

West Penn Baby, July, 1974

A woman who said that she was pregnant as a result of rape, "though," the article notes, "hat and her account of when she became pregnant were later disputed," was turned down for an abortion at a Pittsburgh hospital because they estimated her pregnancy to be 26 - 31 weeks. She went to West Penn Hospital, where Dr. Leonard Laufe diagnosed her as 20 to 22 weeks pregnant and charged ahead. "The abortion, induced by an injection of prostaglandin, a substance that stimulates muscle contraction and delivery of the fetus, was filmed for use as an instructional film. The film showed the three-pound infant moving and gasping." The baby was not cared for and, of course, died. During a coroner's inquest Laufe insisted that the baby had suffered fatal injuries during the abortion so there had been no point in providing any care. No charges were ever filed.

The Edelin Baby, Boston, 1973

Dr. Kenneth Edelin performed a hysterotomy abortion on a girl who was 24 weeks pregnant. A hysterotomy abortion is just a C-section performed with the intention of just letting the baby die. Perhaps because he was in a hospital operating room rather than a freestanding clinic where everybody was on board with dead babies, Edelin pinched the umbilical cord and held the baby in the womb, covered in amniotic fluid, likely in hopes of drowning the infant before delivering it. He was convicted of failing to provide an abortion survivor with care, resulting in death. However, his conviction was overturned. 

Edelin's diligence in ensuring that the teenage patient got the dead baby she'd paid for, and his perceived persecution for providing this vital reproductive health care, made him a darling of the abortion rights movement.

Baby Girl W, Westminster, California, March, 1977

This is the famous Waddill case, in which Dr. William Baxter Waddill strangled a 32-week baby girl who had been born alive during a saline abortion. Witnesses -- at least two nurses, a pediatrician, and an emergency room doctor -- saw Waddill's repeated efforts to kill the baby. Dr. Ronald Cornelson, the pediatrician, testified that Waddill said, "I can't find the goddam trachea" and "This baby won't stop breathing." The case resulted in two hung juries because -- this isn't noted in the article -- nobody had tested the little girl for brain function before Waddill took action, so there was no proof that Waddill caused her "death," defined as "cessation of brain function."

Baby Boy, Los Angeles, July 1979

A woman delivered an apparently dead baby after Dr. Boyd Cooper performed an abortion at 23 weeks at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The baby was taken to a utility room and left with the other aborted babies. After half an hour later nurse Laura VanArsdale noticed that the 1 to 2 pound baby boy was gasping for breath. Cooper told VanArsdale, "Leave the baby there -- it will die." Twelve hours later, when VanArsdale returned to work, she found the baby still alive and gasping in the utility room. Cooper finally consented to have the baby taken to the intensive care unit, where he died four days later. A coroner's jury ruled the death "accidental." Cooper wasn't prosecuted.

"A Common Thread"

The writers noted, "A common thread in all these incidents is that life was recognized and the episode brought to light by someone other than the doctor. Indeed, there is evidence that doctors tend to ignore all but the most obvious signs of life in an abortion baby."

I'd call this a massive understatement. It took a lot of effort for William Waddill to extinguish the obvious life of Baby W. 

The International Correspondence Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

In an issue of the newsletter of the International Correspondence Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a doctor wrote that he was troubled when an aborted infant survived. In the November, 1974 issue, other doctors responded.

Dr. Ronald Bolognese of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, said, "At the time of delivery, it has been our policy to wrap the fetus in a towel. The fetus is then moved to another room while our attention is turned to the care of [the woman]. She is examined to determined whether complete placental expulsion has occurred and the extent of vaginal bleeding. Once we are sure that her condition is stable, the fetus is evaluated. Almost invariably all signs of life have ceased."

The Inquirer article notes that Bolognese backtracked in a 1979 interview, saying, "That's not what we do now. We would transport it to the intensive care nursery."

Dr. William Brenner of the University of North Carolina Medical school was a bit more charitable towards abortion survivors, at least if they continued to show signs of life for several minutes He then recommended calling the patient's doctor -- the abortionist, who, I  might note, has been paid to produce a dead baby, not a live one -- for instructions. If the baby remains tenacious of life after the abortionist has been consulted, "[t]he pediatrician on call should probably be appraised of the situation," Brenner adds. I would note the total lack of any sense or urgency. The idea seems to be to dawdle as much as possible in hope that the lack of care ensures the desired dead baby.

"Seemingly Callous Policies"

The Inquirer notes that in a 1979 interview, Dr. Warren Pearse, executive director of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that what a doctor should to if a baby survives an abortion "is nothing. You assume the infant is dead unless it shows signs of life. You're dealing with a dead fetus unless there is sustained cardiac action or sustained respiration -- it's not enough if there's a single heartbeat or an occasional gasp."

"These seemingly callous policies are based on the assumption that abortion babies are too small or too damaged by the abortion process to survive and live meaningful lives. That is not necessarily the case, though, even for babies set aside and neglected in the minutes after delivery."

Florida Baby, Mid-1970s

The authors write, "A nursing supervisor who asked not to be identified told of an abortion live birth in the mid-'70s in a Florida hospital. The infant was dumped in a bedpan without examination, as was standard practice. 'It did not die,' the nurse said. 'It was left in the bedpan for an hour before signs of life were noticed. It weighed slightly over a pound.'"

After several months in a neonatal intensive care unit, the baby survived and was adopted. The nursing supervisor said that she continued to follow the child's progress and had photos of the child "riding a bicycle and playing a little piano."

SIDEBAR: Regarding hysterotomy abortions,
"'As the infant is lifted from the womb,' said
one obstetrician, 'he is only sleeping, like his
mother. She is under anesthesia, and so is he.
You want to know how they kill him? They put
a towel over his face so he can't breathe. And
by the time they get him to the lab, he is dead.'"
Dr. Thomas F. Kerenyi, pictured, of Mt. Sinai
in New York preferred saline abortions and
said that he screened his patients to make sure
they weren't past 24 weeks. He did say,
however, that they could be performed "virtually
all the way to birth. At 30 weeks, say, you
would just have to draw off and inject that much
more of the solution."
Another doctor, who wished to remain
anonymous, said "You can do it," of D&E
(dismemberment) abortions past 24 weeks.
"Some son-of-a-bitch misreads a sonogram
and sends me a woman 26 weeks. I've done
it. You've just got to take your time and be
careful. And you're not going to end up with
a live birth.

Two Wilmington Babies, Spring, 1979

An nurse found an infant that had been placed in a plastic specimen jar after a saline abortion at Wilmington Medical Center. The baby was gasping for breath, so the nurse took the child to a nursery where it was provided with the same care as any other baby. The child was later adopted.

Five weeks later, at the same hospital, a baby was clearly delivered alive after a saline abortion and was immediately provided with care. This infant was also adopted.

Baby Girl, Inglewood Women's Hospital, February 1979

In February of 1979, an infant girl was born at Inglewood Women's Hospital in Los Angeles, California. (This is the same abortion hospital where Kathy MurphyLynette Wallace, and Elizabeth Tsuji had already undergone fatal abortions, and Cora Lewis and Belinda Byrd would suffer fatal injuries later.) Somebody actually called Harbor General Hospital, associated with UCLA and fully equipped with a neonatal ICU. Nobody from their neonatal team arrived. Though it was "very unusual for them not to pick up an [infant] of this size," said Dr. Rosemary Leake of Harbor General, there had evidently been confusion about the baby's weight and vital signs. The infant died after three hours.

Baby Boy, South Carolina, September, 1974

Louise A. was 20 years old when in 1974 when her periods stopped. She went to her hometown doctor's office, where a nurse told her that she wasn't pregnant. The nurse was mistaken. This mistake delayed confirmation that Louise was indeed pregnant. She went to Dr. Jesse Floyd's office in July of 1974.

Floyd determined that she was past the first trimester of her pregnancy. Under South Carolina law of the time, those later abortions had to be performed in a hospital It took Louise a while to pull together the $450 abortion fee. 

Floyd admitted her to Richland Memorial Hospital. On September 4, he injected her with prostaglandin to cause an abortion.

On September 6, Louise said, "I started having real bad labor pains again and finally my baby was born. I called the nurse." Several nurses, including the head nurse, came into the room, Louise said, and the head nurse asked her if she had known that "the baby was a seven-month baby." Louise said no.

"One of the nurses said that the baby was alive. They took the baby out of the room. He never did cry, he just made some kind of a noise."

The first doctor summoned to the abortion ward was a young resident, who had been paged from the cafeteria. As the Inquirer said, "She did not hesitate. On detecting a heartbeat of 100, she clamped and severed the umbilical cord and had the baby sent to the hospital's intensive care unit."

"It was a shock, a totally unique emergency situation, very upsetting to all of us," the woman, ty then a practicing physician in California. "Some people have disagreed with me [about ordering intensive care for an abortion live birth] but that seems to me the only way you can go."

"It's like watching a drowning. You act. You don't have the luxury of calling around and consulting. You institute life-preserving measures first and decide about viability later on."

At first the baby's condition seemed to be improving. By the time he was ten days old he was prognosed as having a 50% chance of survival.

Louise, who never saw the baby, checked out of the hospital on September 8. "I kept calling this nurse," she said in a deposition. "I would call ... and get information from them about the baby, and they told me he was doing fine. They told me he had picked up two or three pounds. I started going to school, and one afternoon I called them and they told me the baby had died, but no one told me the cause of his death."

The baby had developed a tear in his small intestine and died of that and other complications on September 26, just 20 days old.

Prosecutors were faced with a difficult case. Floyd himself never had any contact with the baby, nor was he involved in making decisions about the child's care. However, it struck them as obvious that by proceeding with an abortion was illegal in that it was done outside a hospital after the first trimester, Floyd had taken action leading to the baby's death. Floyd was charged with both murder and criminal abortion, but eventually the abortion-rights arguments won out. Floyd could claim not knowing that the baby had been past viability, and could even assert that under Roe and Doe, the state had no business meddling in his decision to perform an abortion even after viability. The charges were dropped.

Baby Girl, South Carolina, c. 1974

Charges were filed against Dr. Herbert Schreiber of Camden, South Carolina, for first-degree murder and illegal abortion after allegations that a little girl had been born alive after an abortion and Schreiber had strangled her. Schreiber pleaded not guilty to the crimes. A month after charges were filed, July 18, 1976, a motel maid discovered Schreiber's body slumped over dead in a chair in his room. He had committed suicide by overdose. Noting how nothing had come of the case against Floyd, the prosecutor noted, although Schreiber had "just reached in and strangled the baby," "[i]f he would have been willing to wait [for the outcome of the case], he probably would have been OK too."

Watch Live Births: The Dreaded Abortion Complication Part 1 on YouTube.

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