Tuesday, September 26, 2023

September 26, 1974: The Death of Louise's Baby

 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.

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