Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A 1973 Death I Learned of Recently

About December 14, 1973, 21-year-old Rockland Community College student Beverly Agnes went to a Monsey, New York doctor's office for a safe, legal abortion. She was about five months pregnant.

The doctor chose the risky saline instillation abortion method that had become popular in the United States in New York and California in the years immediately before the Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion-on-demand nationwide. This abortion method involves using a large syringe to remove as much amniotic fluid as possible from the womb and replace it with a strong salt solution that poisons the fetus and gives it strong chemical burns both internally and externally. The visible effects on the skin have led to saline-aborted fetuses to be dubbed "candy-apple babies" for their raw, red skin. (Graphic image here).

Given the gruesome effects on the fetus, one can imagine the risks to the mother, which include cardiac arrest, brain damage, and death. Japan, Sweden, and the Soviet Union had all abandoned the saline abortion method as far too risky. Doctors in the United States, however, did not heed the warnings sounded by doctors in other countries. Those in New York were particularly cavalier about potential maternal injures and deaths. Like many of his fellows in the Empire State, Beverly's physician did the saline instillation in his office as an outpatient procedure.

Beverly sickened after the saline was injected into her body. Around December 16, she was admitted to Nyek Hospital. There, doctors discovered that Beverly's doctor had accidentally injected the saline into the uterus itself rather than into the amniotic sac. The damage to the tissues of Beverly's uterus caused an overwhelming infection. Doctors at Nyek Hospital performed a hysterectomy to remove Beverly's festering uterus, and administered massive doses of antibiotics.

Their efforts were all in vain. The infection finally ended Beverly's life on December 21.

Medical Examiner Dr. Frederick Zugibe noted that saline instillation was "quite a common technique" for abortions, and that what Beverly suffered was "one of [abortion's] hazards. He declared that there was "no evidence of criminality." Neither the Medical Examiner's Office nor law enforcement ever released the name of the doctor whose carelessness cost Beverly Agnes her life.

Beverly's death was the third legal abortion death in the same New York county since the state had legalized outpatient abortion-on-demand on July 1, 1970. Edith Clark had died in June of 1971 and Pamela Modugno in May of 1972.

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