ROCKVILLE, Md. — The death of two women after abortions in Maryland and Chicago may be taking the luster off a new documentary extolling one of the abortionists involved as a hero.
In both maternal-death cases, pro-life activists have complained to medical authorities as a hoped-for first step toward removing the abortionists involved from the medical profession for their alleged negligence.
Jennifer Morbelli, a 29-year-old schoolteacher, died Feb. 7 in Rockville, Md., after undergoing a late-term induction abortion at the hands of Dr. Leroy Carhart at his business in nearby Germantown.
According to Operation Rescue — the Wichita, Kan.-based pro-life group monitoring the case — the woman began suffering severe chest pains after four days of the arduous procedure was completed.
But when her family contacted the nearby Germantown abortion facility, Carhart reportedly had already left for the airport to go to an out-of-state site. Morbelli died of internal bleeding, after amniotic fluid from her womb leaked into her bloodstream, preventing clotting, according to the coroner.
Tonya Reaves, 24 and a single mother, died after an abortion at a Planned Parenthood facility in Chicago last July. Early this month, the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League called for an investigation by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, claiming that the business was not equipped to perform surgical abortions and that it kept Reaves on site for five and a half hours before sending for an ambulance to take her to the hospital, where she died.
While the Chicago Planned Parenthood abortionists are not well known, Carhart is one of four abortionists extolled by After Tiller, a documentary recently shown at the Sundance Film Festival. The film cited them for performing late-term abortions following the 2009 murder of abortionist George Tiller, who developed the techniques the quartet uses.
Sundance promotional material for the documentary lauds Carhart and the other three for being the only four late-term abortionists currently active in the United States with the willingness to “sacrifice their safety and personal lives in the name of their fierce, unwavering conviction to help women.”
Dangerous for Women
Neither Planned Parenthood Illinois nor two organizations marketing After Tiller responded to inquiries from the Register.
But Dr. Donna Harrison, policy director for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that late-term abortions are inherently very dangerous for women.
“Ob-gyns are trained for one outcome — a healthy, live baby and a healthy, live mother,” she said. “It becomes harder and harder as the baby grows in the womb to safely produce this other outcome of a live mother but a dead baby.”
Harrison said the induction method, developed by Tiller and employed by Carhart, is intended to make sure the baby is dead before it is removed from the womb, thus avoiding the laws in many states that protect babies who survive abortion attempts from post-operative termination.
Induction is a three- or four-day process involving killing the baby in the womb with a heart-stopping injection on the first day, followed by dilation of the cervix on day two and finally administration of a drug to induce labor and expulsion of the corpse.
Harrison said that there is serious danger to the mother when the womb is scraped clean with a spoon-like curette after the extraction and by the removal of loose fetal tissue with a forceps. Even more likely to cause perforation of the uterus is a step requiring dismemberment of the dead baby with a scalpel before removal.
“The best thing for the mother’s health is to deliver the baby, even if the baby has fatal defects,” said Harrison, herself an ob-gyn. “Late-term abortions are much more dangerous than giving birth.”
However, nobody knows exactly how much more dangerous because many states do not require abortion facilities to report. “There should be a federal law requiring all abortions and deaths from abortions to be reported,” said Harrison, “so that women know just how dangerous they are.”
According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, in 2009, there were just over 780,000 reported abortions in the U.S., of which just over 10,000 were done after 21-weeks gestation. These late-term abortions led to 12 reported maternal deaths.
Given the inadequate monitoring by state and federal authorities, the voluntary role played by pro-life groups such as Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League has become that much more important, said Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger.
An “inside source” let Operation Rescue know that Jennifer Morbelli died from loss of blood caused by internal bleeding after reportedly making a vain call from her hotel for help to Carhart’s business. By the time her family took her to hospital, it was too late. Operation Rescue has filed a complaint with the Maryland Board of Physicians against Carhart.
“Misoprostol, the drug they use to induce labor,” said Sullenger, “has these side effects — it produces violent and unpredictable contractions.” That is why, she said, third-term abortions shouldn’t be done anywhere but a hospital equipped to deal with sudden loss of blood. “When they send them off to a hotel room, these clinics are just not providing sufficient monitoring.”
But as the Chicago case appears to indicate, even when the mother is kept at the facility and closely monitored after a surgical abortion, as was Tonya Reaves, it is not always enough.
In their complaint, the Chicago pro-life advocates claim the Loop Health Center’s own website specified that it offered only pharmaceutical abortions and birth control, not surgical abortions, until shortly after Reaves’ death, when the list of services was removed completely. They also claim that Reaves was kept at the facility for five and half hours after the attempted surgical abortion before being sent to hospital. Doctors there attempted to complete the abortion, but Reaves died nonetheless.
Two wrongful-death suits have been launched against the business, in addition to the the de-licensing effort.
“Our new strategy is to seek investigations of all fatalities and emergencies,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. “Our volunteers use their cellphones to record the ambulances leaving the clinics. We get the 911 calls through Freedom of Information requests, and we follow up with the regulatory agencies.”
Scheidler predicted pro-life groups will go after doctors because the abortion facilities themselves operate under very lax regulations in many states, making it difficult to file complaints against them. In Illinois, for example, abortion businesses are subject to the same regulations as other surgery-performing facilities only when abortions comprise more than half their business. Otherwise, they need only meet the standards required of doctors’ offices.
“About half the abortion facilities in Illinois aren’t regulated at all,” said Scheidler.
The goal of formal complaints is threefold: first, to expose the unsafe conditions the league believes prevail at many abortion facilities, both to the public and to the regulatory bodies; second, to save the lives of unborn children and pregnant women by forcing those bodies to shut down unsafe businesses; and, third, to embarrass state legislators into imposing tougher scrutiny and standards on the many facilities that now operate under state radar.
Operation Rescue has been using licensing bodies against both doctors and facilities for several years. According to Sullenger, some licensing bodies are now betraying a pro-abortion bias by changing their procedures to shut down such attempts.
The next step, say both Sullenger and Scheidler, could be negligence lawsuits against the licensing bodies themselves.
“They are tricky,” said Sullenger, “because only someone with standing [who can prove she has been injured] can sue. We are certainly looking at it.”
Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.