HYANNIS — Eileen and Tom Smith had just sat down to watch the evening news when they received a call no parent ever wants to get. The woman on the other end of the line was hysterical. She said the Smiths’ 22-year-old daughter, Laura, was in the emergency room at Cape Cod Hospital. The doctors were looking for next of kin.
And there was more. Laura Smith had been pregnant for 13 weeks. And, earlier that day, she had been at a clinic that provides abortions.
Her death is still being investigated:
The state medical examiner hasn’t determined the cause of Smith’s death, a state spokesman said. And Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe is awaiting those results before determining whether further action should be taken, he said.
Eileen Smith met with Osathanondh in the lobby of the Boston Harbor Hotel in Boston about 10 days after Laura’s death.
Smith said she learned from Osathanondh that her daughter had a suction-type abortion, and that she was anesthetized during the procedure. She saw the waiver her daughter signed, the permissions she gave and the list of drugs she was given, Smith said.
She declined to give further details, citing the court case.
Abortion-related death is rare in the United States, according to government statistics.
The Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, fraught with paternal condescension and obfuscating language, was unpopular with physicians and pro-choicers for a reason: women’s safety was at risk. This was widely known!
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a federal ban on so- called partial-birth abortion in April is causing medical practitioners to explore alternate second-trimester abortion methods, placing them in uncharted legal and medical waters that could compromise women’s health.
The ban is expected to bring more risky abortion methods — with little clinical data on safety — into wider use for the sole purpose of legally protecting providers, doctors and experts say.
These alternative second-trimester abortion methods include fetalcide — killing the fetus while it is still in the womb — and hysterotomy, opening the uterus through an abdominal incision.
I have no way of knowing what specific procedure Dr. Osathanondh used, but one doubts that, facing a potential a 2 year jail term, he would choose the safer–but legally riskier–option to terminate a 2nd trimester pregnancy.
While practitioners can continue to perform D&Es, they must now be careful about their methods, Drey said.
Dilating a woman’s cervix too far could show intent to perform a D&X — a violation of the law. Even the way clinicians hold forceps could show intent, Drey said.
“This is where it becomes frightening for physicians,” she said. “To do a safe D&E, you like to have more dilators. Now we are being told that more dilation means you have intent to do a criminal procedure.”
Not dilating a woman’s cervix far enough can result in discomfort, pain and medical risk, she said.
Because there are so many gray areas in the law, it is yet unknown what the parameters will be for prosecuting physicians, said Beth Parker, partner with Bingham McCutchen, who represented Planned Parenthood in the San Francisco case challenging the law.
Women’s health is directly tied to restrictions on abortion, as a study published in the Lancet this month is telling:
“We now have a global picture of induced abortion in the world, covering both countries where it is legal and countries where laws are very restrictive,” Dr. Paul Van Look, director of the W.H.O. Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said in a telephone interview. “What we see is that the law does not influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, it does not matter if the law is restrictive or liberal.”
But the legal status of abortion did greatly affect the dangers involved, the researchers said. “Generally, where abortion is legal it will be provided in a safe manner,” Dr. Van Look said. “And the opposite is also true: where it is illegal, it is likely to be unsafe, performed under unsafe conditions by poorly trained providers.”
It’s actually quite simple: restrict abortion, women die. Ultimately, Dr. Kennedy has compromised women’s health by turning medical practice into a crapshoot. Perhaps Laura Smith is the first casualty.
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