Should Abortionists Be Sued?
They don't always tell victims about abortion complications. Two groups
believe these doctors should be held liable for medical malpractice.
by Camille Otto
Inglewood Hospital in California used to do 11,000 abortions a yea. In
early 1988, however, the hospital lost its license and shut down.
The closure came after Belinda Bird, a 37 year old mother of three,
suffered a punctured uterus from her abortion at Inglewood and died.
This is just one example of medical malpractice which two pro-life
organizations are attempting to eliminate in their fight against
One of those groups, the American Rights Coalition, is an abortion
complaint clearing house in Chattanooga, Tenn. "We're offering women
who have been injured from abortion, any help they need," says Charles
Wysong, president of the organization. "Then if there is malpractice
involved, we certainly want to bring justice there as well."
The second group, Legal Action for Women in Pensacola, Fla. is also
interested in helping women who are suffering from the effects of
abortion. Michael and Vicky Conroy, the directors of LAW were active in
the Pro-Life movement for nine years when they decided to create this
nation-wide for women.
"Although we were reaching some women through sidewalk counseling,
picketing and a crisis hotline, we weren't reaching the masses and there
were still women being injured," says Vicky. "The root of abortion is
money, and if you take away the motive behind it, you eventually hurt
Both Legal action for Women and the American Rights Coalition have set
up tollfree numbers to gather complaints and refer women to assistance
When a woman calls, she is interviewed to determine whether of not she
needs to see a doctor or an attorney. She may also be matched with a
counselor in her city who can help her through her emotional struggles
and share the gospel with her.
Health Resources, Inc., a private health care consulting firm in
Chicago, maintains a database on malpractice lawsuits filed in the Cook
County court system (the largest local court system in the country).
This organization found that in the 15 years from 1975 to 1985, at least
310 abortion related personal injury cases were filed in the county. Of
these, 140, or nearly half, came from women who had become sterile.
Seventeen cases were filed on behalf of patients who had died.
In addition, officials in the coroner office and the public licensing
department say that abortion is often not listed as the cause in many
Barbara McMillan, an Ob/Gyn doctor who operated two abortion clinics in
Jackson, Mississippi is now a pro-lifer who works with the American
Rights Coalition. According to McMillan, abortion-related deaths are
usually hidden from the public's view.
"It's a very scary thing," says McMillin. "If a woman has an abortion
and some placenta is retained and gets infected, she starts bleeding.
If she dies due to blood loss, the cause of death will not even mention
that she had an abortion. And if she didn't tell anyone she was having
an abortion, the whole thing could go undetected."
Making the Hotline Hotter
Despite the efforts of Legal Action for Women and the American Rights
Coalition, the number of women who have called for help is low.
In the last year, for example an average of two women per week have
called each hotline. So far, only about 20 cases have been brought to
court as a result of these efforts.
Part of the problem may be lack of publication, but Wysong feels it may
be that a lot of officials women are afraid to seek help. They fear
going public with their abortion.
"It is important for women to come forward," says Wysong. "Not only for
their own benefit, but for the benefit of others who don't know of the
dangers of abortion."
Natalie Correia, the director of Health Resources, Inc., which is also
involved in malpractice litigation support, says that women need to file
suits to help reduce the risk of abortion malpractice.
"Litigation produces stress that causes change," Correia says. And that
stress is primarily economic. "Litigation will put pressure on both the
defending physician as well as the medical community, which ends up
paying for the malpractice of a few."
Based on her own experience in the abortion industry, Barbara McMillian
believes malpractice lawsuits will drive a lot of doctors out of
"I think a very effective way to close abortion clinics is to make
abortion malpractice expensive and put them out of business. When it
becomes unprofitable, they'll quit."
That opinion is not shared by all, however. A spokesman for the
National Abortion Federation disagrees. "These suits are fronted by
anti-abortion groups who want to manipulate the legal system for their
political purpose," said Alice Kirkman of the ABF. "The incidence of
malpractice has been low compared to other kinds of medicine and our
legal counsel feels secure that they can disperse this effort."
Dr. Fred Z. White, Chairman of the Illinois Medical Inter-Insurance
Exchange says malpractice suits may affect individual doctors, but not e
industry as a whole.
"The number of Obstetric/Gynecological doctors doing abortions is small
compared to the total number of Ob/Gyn. Since they are all in the same
category of insurance, it would take a tremendous number of abortion
suits to have any impact."
Malpractice Suits Seen As Threat
The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research arm of Planned Parenthood,
conducted research on abortion in 1987 and found that rising insurance
rates are a major concern for abortion providers.
In it's report, the researchers noted, "...malpractice insurance
difficulties...were nonetheless considered by (abortion) providers to be
one of their biggest problems." About 53 percent of the abortionists
polled said that the increasing cost of malpractice insurance has made
it more difficult for them to provide abortion services.
One example of how malpractice insurance can affect the abortion
business is what happened to the Westside Women's Health Center in Santa
There center had been paying $15,000 per year for insurance. By the end
of 1986, however, their insurance carrier dropped them because they had
too many claims - even though Westside never went to court with any of
the 12 claims filed against them.
After losing their insurance coverage, Westside could only find one new
carrier, but at 1,000 times the previous rate.
So, after 12 years of doing an average of 60 abortions a month, Westside
Women's Health Center has stopped doing them. However, as soon as they
can find a less expensive insurance carrier, they will resume the
Malpractice Insurance Has Skyrocketed
Statistics show that Ob/Gyn suits have increased dramatically during the
past few years.
In 1982, a total of $1.5 billion in claims were filed. By 1987, hat
number had increased dramatically during the past few years.
In 1982, a total of $1.5 billion in claims were filed. by 1987, that
number had increased 263 percent to $3.95 billion.
Many abortion doctors are insured through groups such as Planned
Parenthood, which covers over 800 clinics. But underwriters believe
that many independent abortion doctors choose to remain without
insurance because of the high rates. St. Paul Insurance of Minnesota,
which handles about 35,000 doctors, carries only about a dozen abortion
An Uphill Battle
Of the cases of the American Rights Coalition and Legal Action for Women
have been working on, not one has yet been decided favorably in court.
However, a few have been settled out of court.
James Golden is an attorney in Chattanooga, Tenn. who has represented
women in abortion malpractice cases. "Many times the settlement amount
offered is just too good to refuse," says Golden. "And because of the
confidentiality clause in contract settlements, there is no real
resolution in the public eye."
Jack Schuler, an attorney in Los Angeles, who is also experienced in
malpractice litigation says, "Our ultimate goal is to change the
public's attitude toward abortion. From that perspective, we would like
to see more cases won in court."
But even before one of these cases moves into the court room, attorneys
have many problems to deal with. Many times women wait too long to
report the problem and the statute of limitations has run out.
Most of these women do not have the money for legal fees and the
attorney most be willing to pay the expenses up front, hoping to collect
if the case is won.
In terms of dollars, the defendant is often funded by insurance
companies, which usually have large budgets to work with.
Donovan Campbell, an attorney with he Rutherford Institute in Dallas,
Tex. is currently pressing several malpractice suits. "It is usually a
great battle to prove that the doctor did commit malpractice. When
possible, we also try to claim fraud, deceptive practices, breech of
contract and warranty, assault and battery, or intentional infliction of
severe emotional distress, to name a few."
There are also other problems, says Campbell. "It's one thing to get a
woman to say she wants to sue. It's another to get her to court. You
really need a well-prepared, stable plaintiff who can stand the
difficult cross-examination without breaking down."
Schuler says there is a deal of reluctance among women to reveal all
that happened to them. "Because they have all suffered such tremendous
losses, they have a lot of feelings of guilt, anger and hostility. I
find myself often being in a position of ministry to them as well as
being their attorney."
But despite the odds, Legal Action for Women and the American Rights
Coalition will continue to help women who have been overcome by the
effects of abortion.
Wysong of the American Rights Coalition is optimistic about the future
and hopes to expand to other major cities soon. "If we get enough
support," says Wysong, "There is no reason why the abortion industry
can't be brought down."
What You Can Do
1. Encourage women who are suffering physically or emotionally from a
past abortion to seek counseling as well as legal and medical attention
from either one of these organizations:
Legal Action for Women
1145 Candlewood Circle
Pensacola, Fls. 32514
(800)962-2319 or (940)624-1111
American Rights Coalition
P.O. Box 487
Chattanooga, Tenn. 37401
(800)634-2224 or (615)624-1111
2. Volunteer to become a counselor in your area for women who are
suffering from an abortion. Contact the organizations listed above for
more information on how you can minister to these women.
3. Encourage Ob/Gyn doctors to testify as expert witnesses in cases of
4. Support Senator Gordon Humphrey's Informed Consent Bill (S.272) for
abortion providers. Humphrey is chairman for the Pro-Life Task Force
and a member of the Congressional Coalition for women, Children and the
Unborn. His bill would require that abortion providers inform women of
the possible risks involved in an abortion procedure.
If you support such legislation, contact your congressman or senators.
Letters from women who have suffered from abortions would be especially
5. Volunteer as a counselor at your local Crisis Pregnancy Center. For
more information, call the Christian Action Council: (703)237-2100.
6. Subscribe to the Legal Action for Women newsletter. This quarterly
newsletter updates what the organization has accomplished as well other
abortion-related news. A subscription is $10. And you may wish to
order a current issue of the Abortion Malpractice Report from LAW. One
copy is $2; 10 copies, $5; 25 copies, $10; 100 copies, $25.
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