By David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
On March 1, 1989, Erica Richardson, a 16-year-old Maryland resident, bled to death from a punctured uterus only hours after undergoing an abortion. During the next five months, two adult women, Gladys Estanislao and Debra Gray, also died from abortion complications. They too were residents of Maryland.
Shockingly, none of these three women was even granted that smallest of recognitions–becoming a statistic. The official statistics issued by Maryland public health officials showed that there were no deaths from abortion in 1989. Indeed, Maryland only reported a single abortion-related death for the entire decade of 1980 to 1989.(1)
There was actually a fourth maternal death related to a 1989 abortion in Maryland. In this case, Susanne Logan fell into a coma during her abortion and awoke four months later as a quadriplegic, unable to talk. She survived for three years, dying in 1992. Since Susanne’s death was not an immediate result of her abortion, it has not been counted in any of the official abortion mortality statistics.(2)
These are four deaths that occurred in one small state that reported no abortion deaths for 1989. For that same year, the Abortion Surveillance Unit of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported only 12 deaths for the entire country. But, as we will see, the CDC doesn’t look very hard.
Covering the Abortionists’ Tracks
In the late 1980′s, Kevin Sherlock, an investigative reporter who specializes in public document searches, undertook an extensive review of death certificates for women of reproductive age in Los Angeles County. Looking for indications of “therapeutic misadventure,” he pulled autopsy reports and was able to find 29 abortion-related deaths in L.A. County alone between 1970 and 1987. Four of these deaths occurred during a one-year period for which the CDC reported zero abortion-related deaths for the entire state of California and only 12 deaths for the whole country.
Using a similar technique, Sherlock eventually documented 30 to 40 percent more abortion-related deaths throughout the country than have been reported in the “official” national statistics published by the CDC. Furthermore, Sherlock accomplished this without any assistance from the CDC, which obstructed his every effort to examine their records. Sherlock admits–and even insists–that with his limited resources and the tendency of abortionists and state health authorities to minimize or obscure the paper trail surrounding abortion-related deaths, he has documented only a fraction of the deaths that are actually occurring as a direct result of abortion.(3)
The scope of the coverup is hinted at in a memo from Steven C. Joseph, M.D., the Commissioner of Health for New York City, to all of his city’s abortion providers. Dated June 5, 1987, the friendly memo simply cautioned against the overuse of general anesthesia, stating: “During the period between 1981 and 1984, there were 30 legal abortion-related deaths in New York City . . . one-third of these (10) were due to general anesthesia, whereas in the rest of the United States less than 10 percent of abortion-related deaths were due to general anesthesia (12/146).”(4)
While not intended for release to the general public, this memo is clear evidence that public health authorities know far more about abortion-related deaths than is being shared in the “official” statistics. For this same time period (1981-1984), New York’s top health official had identified 30 deaths in New York City alone, while the CDC’s official report shows only 42 abortion-related deaths during this period for the entire nation.
In addition, the memo also suggests that the Commissioner of Health had access to unpublished information identifying another 146 abortion-related deaths for that same time period outside of New York. Combined with the 30 deaths in New York City, that is 176 abortion-related deaths in all–419 percent higher than was reported in the official CDC numbers.
Similar admissions of cover-up have been made by other public health authorities.(5) For example, following the death of Barbara Lee Davis from hemorrhage after a routine first-trimester abortion, the chief of the Illinois Department of Public’s Division of Hospitals and Clinics admitted to reporters, “It’s unfortunate, but it’s happening every day in Chicago, and you’re just not hearing about it.”(6) Just one year later, during an investigation of only four Chicago-based abortion clinics, investigative reporters for the Chicago-Sun Times identified twelve abortion-related deaths that had not been reported in the state’s official statistics.(7)
How can there be such an extensive cover-up of abortion-related deaths? Prior to legalization, abortion-related deaths were carefully and accurately reported because these deaths resulted from an illegal activity.(8) But today, abortion is not only legal but is politically protected. Indeed, the CDC’s abortion surveillance unit is not only run by abortion advocates, it has regularly employed practicing abortionists! This is like putting consultants for Phillip Morris’ cigarette manufacturing division in charge of the CDC’s lung cancer surveillance unit. Clearly, the CDC’s abortion surveillance unit is more interested in protecting the health of the American abortion industry than in protecting the health of American women.(9)
Furthermore, the cover-up of abortion-related deaths has actually been furthered by the World Health Organization’s coding rule number 12 of the International Classification of Diseases. This rule requires that deaths due to medical and surgical treatment must be reported under the complication of the procedure (embolism, for example) and not under the condition for treatment (elective abortion). According to researcher Isabelle BÃ©gin:
In effect, this makes the “abortion” category a “ghost” category under which it is simply impossible to code a death due to abortion. Medical coders have in fact relayed that any attempt to code a death due to abortion under abortion yields a “reject message” from the computer programs provided by the National Center for Health Statistics of Washington D.C., a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Only a minute number of abortion-related deaths actually qualify to be declared under abortion, i.e. those for which the medical certificate of death categorically and unequivocally gives abortion as the underlying cause of death.(10)
Racial Minorities at Risk
One final note. Both the “official” statistics on abortion-related deaths of women and the findings of private investigators have found that non-white women are two to four times more likely to die or suffer serious injury from an abortion than are white women. The best explanation for this discrepancy would appear to be that non-white patients are at greater risk of suffering from negligence, or even hostility, that is rooted in racial bias. This is because many abortion providers believe that abortion is essential for “suppressing poverty, crime, and other problems of society.”(11)
In an unguarded moment, Dr. Edward Allred, owner of the largest chain of abortion clinics in California, made his racist attitudes frighteningly clear:
Population control is too important to be stopped by some right-wing pro-life types. Take the new influx of Hispanic immigrants. Their lack of respect for democracy and social order is frightening. I hope I can do something to stem that tide; I’d set up a clinic in Mexico for free if I could . . . The survival of our society could be at stake . . . When a sullen black woman of 17 or 18 can decide to have a baby and get welfare and food stamps and become a burden to all of us it’s time to stop.(12)
Four years after Allred made these comments, Patricia ChacÃ³n, a sixteen-year-old Hispanic girl, and Mary Peata, a 43-year-old married Hispanic woman, both bled to death after having abortions performed by Allred. The autopsy reports do not disclose whether either woman was “sullen.”(13)
Other known deaths at Allred-owned clinics are those of Deanna Bell, a 13-year-old black girl; Josefina Garcia, a 37-year-old Filipino woman; Laniece Dorsey, a 17-year-old black girl; and Joyce Orenzio, a 32-year-old Hawaiian woman.(14) Clearly, Dr. Allred has contributed more than his share to suppressing the population of minority women and their children.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review, 8(2), April-June 2000. Copyright 2000, Elliot Institute.
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