Wednesday, December 07, 2022

The Dreaded Complication Part 2

The Impact on Staff

Using D&E (dismemberment abortions) to avoid the problem of live births comes with its own problems.

Dr. Warren Hern of Boulder Abortion Clinic and his head nurse, Billie Corrigan, presented a paper to the 1978 Planned Parenthood convention called "What About Us? Staff Reactions to D&E." Eight of their 15 staff members reported problems, two of them worrying about Hern's emotional well-being, two reported horrifying fetus dreams, one of whom said the dreams involved hiding fetal parts so others people wouldn't see them. 

The Inquirer noted, Dr. Julius Butler, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, is concerned about studies suggesting that D&E is the safest method and should be used more widely. 'Remember,' he said, there is a human being at the other end of the table taking that kid apart. We've had guys drinking too much, taking drugs, even a suicide or two. There have been no studies I know of of the problem, but the unwritten kind of statistics we wee are alarming.'"

They also quoted Dr. William Benbow Thompson of the University of California at Irvine: "arms, legs, chests come out in the forceps. It's not a sight for everybody."

Dr. Mildred Hanson pooh-poohed the idea that dismembering later term fetuses is psychologically harmful to the people involved. She told the Inquirer that D&E "is a little bit unpleasant for the physician." 

"'There is a lot in medicine that is unpleasant' but necessary -- like amputating a leg -- she argues, and doctors shouldn't let their own squeamishness deprive patients of a procedure that's cheaper and less traumatic."

I'll note here that Hanson never seems to consider the option of just helping the woman overcome her fears and have her baby instead of bickering over which method of killing the child causes the most and least trauma and to whom.

Trying to Get Numbers

A study performed by George Stroh and Dr. Alan Hinman looked at 150,000 abortions performed in upstate New York from July 1970, when abortion-on-demand was legalized on an outpatient basis through 24 weeks, and through December of 1972. They found 38 reported live births. That's a little fewer than 1 live birth for every 4,000 abortions. 

In the mid 1970s a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut found signs of life in about 10 percent of their prostaglandin abortions.

The authors note, "Evidence gathered during research for this story suggests, without proving definitively, that much of the traffic in late abortions now flows to the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, where lose practice more easily escapes notice." They quoted the Daily Breeze, which indicated, "The word has spread that facilities in Greater Los Angeles will do late abortions. How late only the woman and the doctor who performs them know."

This makes it impossible to even estimate how many post-viability abortions those doctors were doing, much less how many babies survived.

The authors seemed a bit queasy about post-viability abortions, stating, "An internal investigation at Jewish Memorial Hospital in Manhattan showed that six fetuses aborted there in the summer of 1979 weighed more than 1 1/3 pounds. The babies were not alive, but were large enough to be potentially viable. A state health inspector found in June 1979 that the unit had successfully aborted a fetus that was well over a foot long and appeared to be of 32 weeks gestation. Hospital officials confirmed in an interview that later in 1979 a fetus weighing more than four pounds had been aborted."


Iona Siegel, administrator of the Women's Health Center at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, told the reporters that she found it "disconcerting" when post-viability abortions were performed She said that she often heard that patients turned away by Kingsbrook because they were past 24 weeks of pregnancy managed to arrange abortions elsewhere. Siegel said, "that makes me angry. Number one, it's against the law. Number two, it's dangerous to the health of the mother." The Inquirer did not note if she found it disturbing that viable unborn babies were being painfully put to death.

The authors quoted Dr. Ervin Nichols, who was director of practice activities for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "We're not really very pro-abortion. As a matter of fact, anything beyond 20 weeks, we're kind of upset about it."

The article continues, "If abortions after 20 weeks are a dubious practice, how does that square with abortions up to 24 weeks being offered openly in Los Angeles and New York and advertised in newspapers and the Yellow Pages there and elsewhere? 'That's not medicine,' Nichols replied. 'That's hucksterism.'"

The ACOG has since changed its tune, by the way. They now just blithely endorse abortion comprehensively and in fact advocate "to integrate abortion as a component of mainstream medical care, and to oppose and overturn efforts to restrict access to abortion." "Access," as we've seen, includes a right to a dead baby if the child has the temerity to emerge alive.

Southern California Baby, Undetermined Date

Linda, a nurse in Southern California, said that as she was "Hurrying out of a patient's room one day to dispose of the aborted 'tissue,' as nurses are taught to think of it, she felt movement. Startled, she looked down, straight into the staring eyes of a live baby."

"'It looked right at me,' she recalled. 'This baby had real big eyes. It looked at me like it was saying, 'Do something -- do something.' Those haunting eyes. Oh God, I still remember them.'"

Linda rushed the baby to the nursing station. The child's heart was beating at 80 - 100 beats per minute. It was taking 3 - 4- breaths per minute. It weighed 1 1/2 pounds.

Linda called the doctor because, she said, the baby "was pink. It had a heartbeat. The doctor told me the baby was not viable and to send it to the lab. I said, 'But it's breathing,' and he said, 'It's non-viable. It won't be breathing long -- send it to the lab.'"

Unwilling to just send a live baby to the pathology lab, Linda looked to her nursing supervisor for help. "She said to follow the doctor's orders and send it to the lab."

Linda put the baby in a makeshift crib with a hot water bottle for warmth and a tube blowing oxygen past the child's head. 

The baby died two and a half hours later.

"I stood by and watched that baby die without doing a thing. I have guilt feelings to this day. I feel the baby might have lived if it had been properly cared for.

Babies in Ohio

Jane was a head floor nurse in an Ohio hospital when she spoke to the Inquirer reporters. In 1978 nurses there successfully petitioned the hospital to stop doing late abortions.

Jane spoke of a 16-year-old patient in 1975 who phoned her mother and cried out, "Ma, it's out -- but Ma, it's alive."

In 1974, Jane said, she was summoned by a patient's roommate. "When I got there the baby's head was sticking out and its little tongue was wiggling. Everybody felt they couldn't do anything until they called the doctor. It was a little thing -- it only lasted about 15 minutes. But it was alive, and we did nothing. And that was wrong."

Even the babies that were successfully killed in the womb disturbed Jane. "Because of my position I had to pick them up off the bed and put them in a bottle of formalin. Sometimes you had to have a very large container. Our gynecologists seemed to have a very poor ability to estimate gestational age. Time and time again they would say with a straight face, 'This woman is 20 weeks pregnant' when she was actually 26 weeks."

Baby Girl, Indio, California, May 3, 1980

Norma Rojo, an obstetrical nurse at Indio Community Hospital in Indio, California described an event that took place the night of May 3, 1980.

A 15-year-old girl had been in a traffic accident that had killed four people. Fearful that the baby might have been injured, the girl went into the hospital two weeks later for an abortion. The baby had a normal heartbeat of 132 to 136 before the abortion was initiated.

The girl delivered the baby alive.

Rojo said that the patient cried hysterically, "Get rid of it! I'm sorry, Mama -- get ride of it!"

Rojo said of the baby, "She was beautiful. She was pink. There were no physical deformities. She let out a little lusty cry. She lay in a basin put there to catch all the stuff. She was waving her arms and legs. You could tell she was making a big effort to live."

The baby weighed 1 pound 14 ounces. Without consulting any doctors, the nurses arranged to transfer the baby to Loma Linda University Medical Center, which was equipped to deal with very premature infants. A doctor there said that the little girl didn't seem to have been harmed by the saline used to abort her. At first she seemed to be doing okay, but she died at 11 days of age.

The family members were angry that the nurses had tried to save the baby.

Legal Status

"The court granted woman an unrestricted right to abortion ... in the first trimester of pregnancy. From that point to viability, the state can regulate abortions only to make sure they are safe. And only after a fetus reaches viability can state law limit abortion and protect the 'rights' of the fetus."

They note that in writing the majority opinion in Roe vs Wade, "Blackmun took no particular account, though, of the possibility of abortion live births, or of errors in estimating gestational age."

They review subsequent court cases regarding abortions at and past viability:

  • "A Missouri law was too specific in forbidding abortions after 24 weeks. 'It is not the proper function of the legislature or the court,' Blackmun wrote, 'to place viability, which essentially is a medical concept, at a specific point in the gestational period.'"
  • Letting the decision be a medical one didn't pass Blackmun muster, either because, by banning abortions "if there is sufficient reason to believe that the fetus may be viable," the state was being too vague and putting doctors in too tenuous a position.
  • "State laws could not interfere with a doctor's professional judgment by dictating the choice of procedure for late abortions or by requiring aggressive care of abortion live births."
The article notes that as of 1979, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 30 states had some sort of law trying to limit abortions at or post viability, some states had laws requiring that doctors try to save abortion survivors, but few states had laws both trying to limit late abortions and mandating that babies who survive such abortions got care. The authors note that many of those laws would not stand if somebody decided to challenge them.

Prosecutorial Barriers

Bronx County Assistant District Attorney Alan Marrus noted that he'd investigated several live-birth cause but hadn't been able to prosecute any. "You need an expert opinion that in fact that there was life and that the fetus would have survived. Often the fetus has been destroyed -- so there is nothing for your expert to examine."

Many cases would only come to light if a whistle-blower came forward. "The credibility of that sort of witness may be subject to attack," the authors noted. "And even if the facts do weigh against a doctor, he has some resources left. Almost always he can claim to have made no more than a good-faith error in medical judgement."

The Inquirer quotes a California prosecutor. "This is happening all over the place. Babies that should live are dying because callous physicians let them die." He doubted that he'd ever be able to win a conviction because "Nobody's as dumb as Waddill. They're smarter today. They know how to cover themselves."

A Creepy Thought

After spending some time looking at how improved neonatal care is pushing viability earlier and earlier in the pregnancy, the authors quote Dr. Roger K. Freeman, then medical director of Women's Hospital at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center: "Medical advances in the treatment of premature babies enable us to save younger fetuses than ever before. When a fetus survives an abortion, however, there may be a collision of tragic proportions between medicine and maternity. Medicine is now able to give the premature a chance that may be rejected by the mother."

Freeman had developed the fetal stress test and helped to develop a treatment to help premature lungs develop quickly and improve survival. I'm guessing that the tragedy he's seeing in the "collision" between "medicine and maternity" is that some women are tragically choosing to reject care for their abortion-surviving infants. 

The idea that he labels this rejection "maternity" is creepy.

Unwilling to Head Off the Problem

The authors notice that the problem of babies surviving abortion has two possible solutions. "The simplest, advocated by Dr. Sissela Bok of the Harvard Medical School among others, is just to prohibit late abortions. Taking into account the possible errors in estimating gestational age, she argues, the cutoff should be set well before the earliest gestational age at which infants are surviving." But, the authors note, while other countries have taken this approach, "the Supreme Court has applied a different logic in defining the abortion right, and the groups that won that right would not cheerfully accept retreat now."

"A second approach," the authors continue, "advocated by Mrs. Bok and others, is to define the woman's abortion right as being only a right to terminate the pregnancy, not to have the fetus dead. Then if the fetus is born live, it is viewed as a person in its own right, entitled to care appropriate to its condition."

They note, though, that this isn't a solution abortion practitioners are likely to accept. They quote Dr. Kerenyi of Mt. Sinai again: "You have to have a feticidal dose [of the saline]. It's almost a breach of contract not to. Otherwise, what are you going to do -- hand her back a baby having done it questionable damage? I say, if you can't do it, don't do it."

In other words, if you can't guarantee an in-utero death, send her to somebody who can.

Last Baby, Cleveland, March, 1978

A baby survived a saline abortion at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland in March of 1978. The infant was transferred to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. After several weeks in intensive care, the baby went home with the mother. "Mother and child returned to Rainbow for checkup when the child was 14 months old, the spokeswoman there said, and both were doing fine."

"The mother could not be reached for comment. But a source familiar with the case remembered one detail: 'The doctors had a very hard time making her realize she had a child. She kept saying, 'But I had an abortion.''"

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