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"Serena" Roe

In their 1979-1980 Abortion Surveillance, the Centers for Disease Control staff describe an abortion death that took place during the period of 1972-1980. To avoid depersonalizing her, I'll call her Serena.

Serena was a 22-year-old unmarried nursing student when she became pregnant. Her parents told CDC staff that Serena had no boyfriend. Serena had been pregnant once before, 8 years earlier, and had undergone an induced abortion. This leads me to believe that Serena died in some time between 1978 and 1980, since the CDC makes no mention of any health issues that would have facilitated an abortion prior to 1970, when states first started allowing elective abortions, and doesn't say that the previous abortion was illegal.

Serena lived in the dormatory on the campus of her school, in a large Southern city. She was living on scholarship money supplemented by her parents. She had private insurance and was eligible for Medicaid.

The CDC staff found no evidence that Serena used contraception or sought care at a family-planning facility. Her mother and sister both said that Serena believed that contraception was "against nature" and would "cause complications."

Serena went to a private abortion clinic when she was 8 weeks pregnant. The staff there noted no complications, and discharged Serena a few hours after the suction procedure. She paid out-of-pocket for the abortion.

Two days later, Serena went to the emergency room of her university's hospital, reporting abdominal pain. She was lethargic, with blood pressure of 40/20, respirations of 28, and a pulse of 64. Her abdomen was rigid, distended, and tender. She was in so much pain that it was difficult to perform a pelvic examination.

Serena was admitted, with a diagnosis of uterine rupture and sepsis. An IV was started with ampicillin, clindamycin, and gentamicin.

It was only after Serena's admission to the hospital that her parents learned of her pregnancy. Serena's mother told CDC staff that she would have tried to convince her daughter to carry to term had she known of Serena's situation.

Four hours after she was admitted, Serena started having trouble breathing. She was entubated for ventillation.

Two hours later, hospital staff performed an exploratory laparotomy. They removed three liters of clotted blood from her abdominal cavity and repaired a perforation in her uterus. She was stable during surgery and was given three units of blood.

Five minutes after Serena was transferred into the recovery room, she went into cardiac arrest. Staff resuscitated her and transferred her to the Intensive Care Unit. On x-ray, she was found to have pulmonary edema. Serena remained comatose until her death one month later. No autopsy was performed. Her death was attributed to cardiopulmonary arrest due to septic shock and hemorrhage due to the uterine perforation.

The CDC blamed Serena's death on her failure to use contraceptives, her abortionist's failure to diagnose the perforated uterus, Serena's delay in seeking medical care after her abortion, a possibly excessive amount of intravenous fluid administered by the hospital, and postponing the transfusions until after the surgery.

Source: Rocky Mountain News 12/4/81

Abortion Deaths

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