The sudden, unexpected death of a 23-year-old Albuquerque woman after she began a third-trimester abortion procedure at a Downtown abortion clinic was attributed to large blood clots in her lungs due to her pregnancy.
But anti-abortion activists here and nationwide contend the woman’s autopsy report by the state Office of Medical Investigator in February was a “whitewash” and that her death Feb. 4 was due to her abortion treatment.
They blame Southwestern Women’s Options and the University of New Mexico, which oversees the OMI, and have called for state Attorney General Hector Balderas to investigate.
“UNM is a biased promoter of abortion that is attempting to shift blame onto (the woman’s) pregnancy, instead of the abortion,” Troy Newman, president of the Kansas-based Operation Rescue, said in a news release. “(She) and her family deserve the truth, not a cover-up.”
New Mexico Chief Medical Investigator Dr. Kurt Nolte told the Journal on Wednesday, “There’s no whitewash here. This is a very complex medical history and a complex array of autopsy findings,” he said. “This is rare and a tragic case for the family.”
Southwest Women’s Options, which has been operating for 40 years, said in a statement, “All of us … are heartbroken by (her) death. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
The statement added, “For those who oppose women’s reproductive justice to exploit this sad event by putting forward lies about abortion and the patient’s care is sickening. We trust the citizens of New Mexico to be compassionate and understanding of the needs of women and to see through this inflammatory attack on women’s reproductive rights and on us.”
News of the woman’s death was published Wednesday by national conservative media websites, including Breitbart and The Daily Caller.
The OMI autopsy report says the woman was preparing for the final portion of a termination of pregnancy – a process that can take several days, when she became short of breath. Southwestern Women’s Options is one of the few clinics in the U.S. that perform late-term abortions, which are legal in New Mexico. She was in her third trimester.
The woman was placed on oxygen at the clinic, with some improvement of her symptoms, the autopsy report says. “But due to the concerning symptoms, she transferred” to UNM Hospital.
She also had an infection, which was discovered in her uterus and blood, Nolte said. Due to her rapid decline and “the concern for a significant infection,” the woman was taken to an operating room to complete the abortion procedure, the report says. “During the operation, she sustained a cardiac arrest,” it says.
“(She) did have a significant blood clot in her lungs at the time of autopsy that caused her sudden and unexpected death,” the report says.
“While she likely did have an infection from the abortion process, the blockage of her pulmonary arteries by blood clots would have caused the rapid clinical symptoms leading to death, even without infectious or inflammatory complications,” the autopsy says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified two abortion-related deaths nationwide for 2011, the most recent year for which data are available.
The CDC also reported that from 2011 to 2013, 2,009 women died of pregnancy-related causes. The percentage of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. attributed to pulmonary embolism was about 9.2 percent. The percentage of deaths involving infections was 12.7 percent.
The state AG’s Office more than a year ago was asked by a GOP-led congressional committee to investigate whether UNM and Southwestern Women’s Options broke a state law when they transferred aborted fetuses for medical research. A spokesman from the agency told the Journal on Wednesday the investigation is ongoing.