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Lies and statistics

Government mortality tables miss the full story

After Bruce Steir punctured her uterus during a December 1996 abortion in a Moreno Valley, Calif., clinic, 27-year-old Sharon Hamptlon bled to death in the back seat of her mother's car. Her 3-year-old son Curtis was by her side. In a similar case in April 1998, 33-year-old Lou Anne Herron bled to death following a late-term abortion performed by John Biskind, a Phoenix abortionist.

Dr. Steir, a San Francisco physician, had been accused by the California Board of Medicine of mishandling six abortion cases prior to performing the procedure on Ms. Hamptlon. He had been on probation with the board since 1988. When Riverside County prosecutors pursued the Hamptlon case (just as prosecutors pursue other cases of egregious malpractice), abortion advocates rallied to the doctor's defense, with demonstrations and signs. His trial is pending.

Dr. Biskind, who is licensed to practice medicine in the state of Arizona, had already been disciplined twice by the state's Board of Medical Examiners- once for attempting to abort a 27-week-old baby he had misdiagnosed as being 10 weeks along; and once for killing a Flagstaff woman by slicing an eight-centimeter hole in her uterus, then discharging her from his abortion clinic an hour later. She died in a Cottonwood, Ariz., emergency room after massive hemorrhaging.

Cases like these beg the question: While abortion is legal, is it really safe for the mothers? There is controversy over the statistics. The Centers for Disease Control report the risk of dying from an induced abortion at 0.3 deaths per 100,000 in 1990, but some have charged underreporting, with abortion fatalities reported as deaths from other causes. But in any event, statistics lose their luster when examined in terms of women lost to their families instead of numbers in a mortality table: Four women died before; now one dies. If you are young Curtis Hamptlon, that "one" was your mother.

The safety of abortion is an issue that can't be measured only in terms of life and death. Often overlooked by the pro-abortion lobby are the risks to post-abortion reproductive health. According to one study, 75 percent of women who undergo forced dilation for abortion sustain some form of cervical damage. Such damage increases the risk of subsequent miscarriage, premature birth, and labor complications by 300 to 500 percent. The risk of tubal pregnancy also increases: by 30 percent after one abortion, and 160 percent after two, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

When she was 15 and pregnant by her boyfriend, Tonya Lassiter had a voluntary abortion. When she was 16, she had another one. Since then, Tonya, now a 34-year-old mother of two in Escondido, Calif., has had two miscarriages resulting in two D-and-C (dilation and curettage) procedures, and one tubal pregnancy which a doctor removed in surgery. The 5-inch horizontal scar low on Tonya's belly is, she says, a physical reminder of the scars on her heart.

"When I was pregnant as a teenager, I didn't understand the emotional consequences of having an abortion," says Mrs. Lassiter. "I thought it was just an easy way out."

She was counseled at the clinic that abortion carried with it the risk of physical complications in later pregnancies. "But it wasn't until I had children and began to watch them grow," says Tonya, "that I realized there were emotional complications. Those pregnancies would have resulted in two loving, giggling little boys or girls, but I denied them their chance to live. Choosing to snuff out human potential was for me mentally and emotionally unsafe. No one at the abortion clinic told me that."

Tonya is not alone in her contention that abortion is mentally and emotionally dangerous. Studies show that up to 80 percent of women who have had abortions experience difficulties ranging from guilt, remorse, and shame to self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a psychiatric reference guide, the American Psychiatric Association lists abortion as a historical factor that should be examined in diagnosing "major depression" in women.

Based partly on his appalling history, Dr. John Biskind is now the target of a civil complaint by the family of Lou Anne Herron. Dr. Bruce Steir, who once described himself as seeing abortion as a way to "make ends meet," has been charged with second-degree murder. Still, abortion is legal.

When he's old enough to analyze it, will Curtis Hamptlon think it's safe?

Lynn Vincent

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen non-fiction books, including Same Kind of Different as Me. Lynn resides in San Diego, Calif.