In Indiana and Maryland, a tale of two abortions

James A. Miller

February 15, 1991|By James A. Miller

THE ALLEGED illegal abortion death of Rebecca (Becky) Bell, a 17-year-old Indiana girl, has become a cause celebre of the pro-abortion industry, which is using the case to thwart parental consent and notification laws throughout the nation.

According to Becky's parents, their daughter was a victim of Indiana's parental consent law. Pregnant and unable to face her parents, and denied a "safe, legal abortion" because of the consent law, Becky was forced to seek an illegal, back-alley abortion, the Bells claim. A number of columnists, including The Evening Sun's Linda Cotton (Jan. 25), without doing any checking of their own, rushed to hold up the Bell case as an example of the evils of parental notification laws.

The claim is that Becky died as a result of a botched, incomplete abortion which led to a massive infection that killed her. The Bells point to Becky's autopsy report, which on the surface certainly seems to support their story: "Cause of death -- septic ,, abortion with pneumonia."

There's just one thing wrong with Becky Bell's abortion. It never happened.

I tracked down the doctor who performed Becky Bell's autopsy, Jesse Giles. Incredibly enough, Becky Bell's parents, who talk so glibly about what the autopsy report supposedly discloses, never bothered to talk to the doctor who wrote the report.

When Giles wrote the word "abortion" in his autopsy report, he never imagined that abortion advocates would one day look over his shoulder and seize upon that word to promote their agenda. Giles used the word "abortion" in the way it had always been used in medicine prior to the national debate. He meant a spontaneous abortion. In short, he meant a miscarriage.

If Giles had meant a deliberate, surgical abortion, he would have used the word "induced" to describe it. Giles told me that there is no evidence of an induced abortion, and in his professional opinion Becky Bell suffered a miscarriage.

Unfortunately, another pathologist stuck the word "septic" immediately before the word "abortion" on the report's cover page. That word has also been seized upon as proof positive that a botched, unsterile abortion had been performed.

But the autopsy report has not the slightest evidence to support any "septic" condition in Becky Bell's uterus. The autopsy found no infection, no sepsis, no pus, no peritonitis, no odor, no discolored tissue, no infected blood. Indeed, the tissue lining Becky's uterus was described as "smooth and glistening," a state inconsistent with a "septic" diagnosis.

The word "pneumonia" on Becky's autopsy gives the real reason for her death: an overwhelming streptococcus pneumonia, the same condition that killed famed puppeteer Jim Henson.

Becky Bell died at 11:29 p.m. Sept. 16, 1988. Almost six months later, at 1:30 a.m. March 2, 1989, 16-year-old Erica Richardson died in Prince George's County, Md., following an induced abortion. Erica's vagina, cervix and uterus had been punctured, causing severe hemorrhage and an air embolism, which entered her heart.

Just two Prince George's County weekly newspapers and one Frederick County daily reported the death, the facts of which were obscured by Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The official 1989 Maryland abortion statistics do not list Erica's death and report no abortion deaths for 1989, despite Erica's and another 1989 Maryland abortion death.

Moreover, the office of the chief medical examiner, judging by the autopsies of the two 1989 abortion deaths, sanitizes the reports.

Consider Erica Richardson's autopsy report. Although there is no doubt whatever that Erica underwent an abortion, the word "abortion" appears nowhere in the report. The medical examiner wouldn't even admit that he knew Erica had been pregnant. He said lamely, "According to police reports, the deceased was known to have been pregnant . . ." Maryland's chief medical examiner needed the police to tell him that the body he had just autopsied -- that of a girl aborted at 19 weeks -- was pregnant!

Listen to the medical examiner's euphemisms to tidy up after the abortionist: The reason given for "how injury occurred" is "therapeutic misadventure," and the "manner of death" is reported as "accident."

Two deaths, two greatly different treatments. One, Becky Bell's, is fraudulently said to be the result of a botched, illegal abortion and is promoted shamelessly by abortion extremists in a propaganda campaign for unlimited abortion.

The other, Erica Richardson's, barely noticed and covered up by the state's chief medical examiner, doesn't even appear in the state's official records.

One young woman is made a posthumous celebrity; the other is not even allowed to be a statistic.

James A. Miller is director of research for Human Life International, an anti-abortion group in Gaithersburg.

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