The following post is adapted from Secular Pro-Life's resources, and an article by the extraordinary lawyer and human rights advocate, Kelsey Hazzard. Additional information regarding Massachusetts provided by C.J. Williams.
Despite conventional wisdom, there's zero quantifiable data to support the idea that all or even most late-term abortions are medically necessary.
Defining our terms.
First, the phrase "late-term abortion" is ill-defined. We've had past posts where we were including anything after the first trimester, but to be more conservative, this post is only for abortions performed at 21 weeks or later. [Update 2/8/20: some complain the term "late-term abortion" is not a medical term and/or is made up by pro-lifers. See this thread for examples of abortion providers, Guttmacher, and the media using the phrase "late-term abortion" over the years.]
Second, when we say "medically necessary" we're referring to abortions where the reasons cited were risk to the woman's life, risk to the woman's health, or fetal abnormalities.
Objections to the "medically necessary" definition.
We understand that many pro-life people object to characterizing some or all of these situations as "medically necessary abortions." Some people don't consider a procedure that destroys a fetus an "abortion" if the procedure is done to save the woman's life. Some don't believe there are any scenarios where a woman's life or health is better protected by late-term abortion than by induction of labor or c-section. Some view abortion due to fetal abnormalities as a type of involuntary euthanasia, not medically necessary to the woman and not clearly in the best interest of the fetus. Some especially object to calling abortions "medically necessary" for fetal abnormalities because not all such fetal abnormalities are life-threatening to the fetus (possibly the most controversial example being the very high rate of abortionwhen the fetus has Down syndrome).
SPL recognizes some relevant points here (click through to "Further Reading" for more thoughts on these subjects). But for this blog post, we leave all that aside. Here we're not debating whether and when abortion is justified for maternal health and life or for fetal abnormalities. We're demonstrating that even if you believe all of these reasons constitute medically necessary abortions, most late-term abortions are still not medically necessary.
In reality, most women seek 21+ week abortions for non-medical reasons, such as:
- Not realizing sooner that they were pregnant,
- Struggling to find the time and money for later abortion procedures (which are more complicated and expensive than earlier procedures), and
- Difficulty deciding whether they wanted to continue carrying the pregnancy.
When you say, "incompatible with life," is this who you mean?
Baby Hope was diagnosed with what doctors said was a fatal brain abnormality. So they told her mom to end the life of Baby Hope.
But since when does our society promote killing as a treatment for disability?
She is alive and thriving today, proving the doctors wrong. This is the face of "incompatible with life." And this is what "ROE" Act supporters call "abortion access."
The "ROE" Act would make taking Hope's life legal.
If H. 5179 becomes law, babies like Hope won't be protected by law.
The "R.O.E." Act included in H. 5179 makes targeting preborn infant for a late-term abortion (up-to-birth) legal.
Call your state representative today (look them up here) and demand that they sustain Governor Baker's Christmas Even veto.
Please call at least 2 other state representatives on this list.
The State House news reported on our delivery of thousands of petitions opposing the ROE Act today.
ROE Act Opponents Visit Judiciary Committee
ROE Act opponents visited the Judiciary Committee Thursday to deliver signatures from people opposed to the bill, which was the subject of a long public hearing in June. Massachusetts Citizens for Life claims the bill (S 1209 / H 3320) would lower standards of care for women by permitting certain abortions to be undertaken outside of hospital settings. The bill's critics also oppose its changes to parental consent. The ROE Act, backed by a large coalition, eliminates parental consent requirements for teens seeking an abortion, allows abortions after 24 weeks to protect the physical or mental health of a patient, or in cases of diagnosed lethal fetal anomalies, and includes abortion in the pregnancy-related safety net coverage for residents ineligible for MassHealth. C.J. Williams of Mass. Citizens for Life said she turned in 1,654 signatures to Judiciary Committee counsel Jim McCarthy, and new digital signatures were still landing in her email inbox while she stood in the office around 3:20 p.m. ROE Act supporters were also on Beacon Hill Thursday for an advocacy training hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. Williams said she hoped to run into them and "have a conversation," but did not encounter any backers of the bill.
- Michael P. Norton/SHNS
In New Mexico, the proposed removal of late term abortion procedures from the hospital setting made by the "R.O.E." Act in Massachusetts is already law. This reduction in standards of care has proved fatal for Keisha Atkins, and deadly or injurious to nearly 25 other women.
By Leslie Palma
Priests for Life Director of Communications
It’s heartbreaking to imagine the last day in the life of Keisha Atkins, a 23-year-old woman who died following a legal abortion, at six months, in New Mexico.
“In our last conversation in the hospital, she said, ‘Mom, I’m going to die,’” recalled Keisha’s mom, Tina Atkins. “And I said, ‘Don’t talk like that, you’re going to be fine.’”
Soon after that, Keisha was taken to the operating room, and Tina never saw her alive again.
Tina described her daughter as “a beautiful, exuberant young lady,” who loved the outdoors and karaoke singing, going to concerts with her mom and just hanging out with family.
“We just had a great life and all of a sudden, it was gone,” Tina said.
The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the late-term abortion business that started the abortion and the hospital where she died.
“They messed with the wrong black woman, because I am not going to step down,” Tina said during an interview with Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, and Alveda King, director of Civil Rights for the Unborn for Priests for Life. Tina has testified before the New Mexico Legislature and is hoping to talk to President Trump about abortions that are killing women and their children.
“This is a tragedy,” Father Pavone said. “It’s so important to be speaking out about this.”
KEISHA’S ABORTION EXPERIENCE
Keisha went to the University of New Mexico (UNM) twice, on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30, 2017, seeking an abortion. She was given an ultrasound but was ultimately turned away from the hospital and referred to Southwestern Women’s Options, an Albuquerque business that performs third-trimester abortions on healthy babies growing in the wombs of healthy mothers. The UNM staff made the appointment at Southwestern for her. The two businesses often collaborate, both in the training of abortionists and, until last year, in the transfer of body parts harvested from aborted babies.
On Feb. 1, Keisha went to Southwestern, where her baby girl received a shot of digoxin to stop her heart and laminaria were inserted in Keisha’s cervix to begin the dilation process that would, if all went according to plan, result in Keisha delivering her stillborn daughter two or three days later.
Keisha signed consent forms and was instructed, in writing, that if she experienced any problems, she should not call 911 or go to an emergency room, but should just call Southwestern. She was sent home.
Feb. 2, she returned to Southwestern to have the laminaria replaced and was sent home again. Late that night, at about 11 p.m., she called Southwestern to say she was having trouble breathing and experiencing abdominal pain. Tina was with her when she made that call and remembers that Keisha was instructed not to call 911 but just to get to the clinic in the morning.
“I stayed with her all night,” Tina said. “She was in so much pain.”
On Feb. 3, Keisha arrived at Southwestern at 6:45 a.m. with a high fever and experiencing shortness of breath. Her physical symptoms did not improve through the course of that long day.
“That day was horrible,” Tina said. “I was in the waiting room and they finally let me see her for a minute at 2:30 p.m.” Keisha was on oxygen and had a high fever, her mother said.
At 4:08 p.m., almost nine and a half hours after Keisha had arrived at Southwestern, an ambulance finally was called. The abortion was not performed because she was too ill.
Keisha was admitted to the Emergency Room at UNM at 4:53 p.m. Tina remained with her until just before she was taken to the operating room at 10:29 p.m. for a “dilation and evacuation” abortion of her dead baby. That would entail repeatedly inserting forceps into Keisha’s uterus to remove her daughter piece by piece.
On the operating table, Keisha went into cardiac arrest and was declared dead at 12:10 a.m. Feb. 4.
Eventually the remains of Keisha’s baby, whom she had named Mavis, were reunited with Keisha’s body. They were cremated and their ashes, together in one urn, are with Tina.
“I miss my baby,” Tina said. “She should be here with me right now, and my grandbaby.” Mavis would be 2 years old.
Keisha’s sister, Nicole, also had an abortion at Southwestern and suffered complications so serious, she had to have a hysterectomy. She would advise any woman considering abortion to make another choice.
“This has impacted me and my family in ways you could not imagine,” Nicole said. “It has a tremendous amount of loss involved and I wish I had never done it.”
Tina and Nicole both wish Keisha had never set foot inside Southwestern.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
An autopsy performed by UNM’s Dr. Lauren Dvorscak concluded that Keisha died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism - a blood clot in the lungs. The death was listed as “natural” and the autopsy report noted that “pulmonary embolism is the 6th leading cause of maternal mortality in the United States.”
But according to email transcripts obtained by Albuquerque attorney Michael Seibel, who last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Southwestern and UNM, some of the hospital’s medical staff were skeptical that it was really a pulmonary embolism that killed Keisha.
The autopsy report noted that Keisha “also had a high white blood cell count and other clinical features concerning for sepsis upon her hospital admission.” Keisha’s family believes that sepsis, a widespread infection, is what killed her.
Some hospital staffers seem to agree.
In an email dated July 20, 2017, Dr. Trenton Wray, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of New Mexico Hospital, who was one of the physicians who treated Keisha, said: “Everything about her course was consistent with septic abortion … I have to admit, I was floored by the cause of death being a massive PE.”
Wray was asking for an opinion from Dr. Gary Hatch, a diagnostic radiology specialist, who responded:
“The autopsy report doesn’t make sense to me. Who did the autopsy?” Hatch also insisted “there was no massive PE at the time of the CPTA. Period.”
CPTA stands for computed pulmonary arteriogram, a test that would have detected a pulmonary embolism.
In a subsequent email to Lisa Hofler, who was primarily in charge of Keisha’s treatment in the emergency room, Wray said: “My personal opinion on it is that she had septic cardiomyopathy.”
In an email exchange between Dvorscak, who performed the autopsy, and Hatch, Keisha’s infection was mentioned again.
“I agree that everything makes sense for sepsis, and I’m not denying that she was septic and going through a septic abortion,” Dvorscak wrote.
In his response, Hatch asked: “Could a potential sequence here be PE due to DIC due to sepsis due to endometrial infection?”
DIC stands for disseminated intravascular coagulation, a dangerous blood condition that can lead to hemorrhaging. Retention of a dead fetus is one potential cause of DIC.
“I think the scenario you outlined is entirely plausible,” Dvorscak replied, “that everything may have been sort of a sequence from her underlying infection.”
A month after these email exchanges, on Aug. 23, 2017, the Albuquerque Journal ran a story under the headline “Autopsy Rules Out Abortion as Cause of Death.”
In the story, New Mexico Chief Medical Investigator Dr. Kurt Nolte called Keisha’s death “a rare and tragic case for the family.” Southwestern, in a statement, said “All of us … are heartbroken by her death. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
The Southwestern statement went on to berate pro-lifers who were trying to learn the truth about the death of a healthy 23-year-old during the abortion of her healthy baby:
“For those who oppose women’s reproductive justice to exploit this sad event by putting forth lies about abortion and the patient’s care is sickening.”
Tina Atkins has a different take on what’s sickening about this situation.
“These late-term abortions are killing our children, our mothers, our daughters,” she said. “And they’re just getting away with it. I wanted to raise my grandbaby. I can’t even do that now because I don’t have either one of them here.”
Another set of emails sent two days after the Journal story was published brought up another discrepancy.
Remember that UNM turned Keisha away when she went there seeking an abortion, instead sending her to Southwestern for an elective abortion of her six-month fetus. That makes it curious for Eve Espey, chairwoman of UNM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, to write: “… would you be willing to remove the word ‘elective’ – she qualifies under New Mexico’s definition of ‘medically indicated’ but I would suggest just saying ‘abortion.’ “
If her abortion was medically indicated, why was Keisha sent to an abortion business that, according to files collected by Seibel, had no emergency equipment on hand and whose doctors did not have hospital admitting privileges?
That’s just one of the many questions Keisha’s family want answered when the case is heard in December 2020.
They will also want to know why Southwestern waited more than nine hours before transferring her to the hospital, and why UNM waited more than five hours before sending her to an operating room to remove Keisha’s baby, who had been dead for about 60 hours at that point.
They would like the truth about the cause of death to come out – was it really a pulmonary embolism, or, as their lawsuit contends, did she die due to a septic infection that was overlooked until it was too late?
They want to know if, with better care, Keisha might have lived.
Keisha’s family, working with Elisa Martinez, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance for Life and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, also want to ensure that no more women die from abortion.
Noting that even literature supplied to Keisha at Southwestern said the risks of later abortions were much greater than those performed early in pregnancy, Ms. Martinez said: “This is why we have to put an end to barbaric late-term abortion. There are too many women in who are being lied to. We need this story to get out.”
Why young women, particularly women of color, continue to die from legal abortion is beyond the scope of the lawsuit, but it’s a question that needs an answer, especially as late-term abortion spreads to states like New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Vermont.
“So many of the details sound so tragically similar,” Father Pavone told Tina and Nicole Atkins. “Not only are we praying for you, but we are going to work side by side with you to make sure this tragic loss will not be in vain. We’re going to save more lives as a result.”