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Rita McDowell

Sixteen-year-old Rita was the daughter of Ethel Kennedy's part-time housekeeper. On March 4, 1975, Robert Sherman performed a safe and legal abortion on Rita. When Rita was discharged, her mother was informed that she would probably expel the fetus that night.

Rita did not expel the fetus. Instead, she developed a fever. Her mother called Sherman's facility on March 5 to seek care for her daughter. She said that Sherman would not speak to her, and that the receptionist told her to bring Rita in two days later.

In the early morning hours of March 7, Rita awoke screaming, then collapsed in her mother's arms. Doctors at the hospital where Rita was taken removed the fetus, but she died just after midnight on March 8.

An investigation into Rita's death revealed evidence that Sherman deliberately performed incomplete abortions so that he could charge more for follow-up care. Sherman was charged with murder in Rita's death, and prosecutors presented witnesses and evidence that Sherman re-used disposable medical equipment, failed to perform tests to verify pregnancy, failed to do pathology examinations of abortion tissues, allowed a nurse's aide to perform surgery, and falsified medical records.

Sherman claimed to develop heart problems during the murder trial. He plea-bargained, getting the murder charge dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on the perjury charges. The prosecutor defended the plea bargain on the grounds that the felony convictions would block Sherman from ver practicing medicine again. Sherman served two years in a federal prison, then set up a legal abortion practice in Boston.


Sources: People, 7/21/82; New York Times, 10/6/82

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