Shawn Cohen and Jane Lerner, The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News WESTCHESTER, N.Y. — A leader of one of the nation’s top anti-abortion groups is weighing a legal challenge against a doctor in Maryland whose patient died Feb. 7 after a late-term abortion.
“We’re hoping the hospital will make a complaint to the Maryland Medical Board,” Operation Rescue’s senior policy adviser Cheryl Sullenger told The Journal News Tuesday about the death of Jennifer Morbelli of New Rochelle, N.Y. “If it looks like they’re not acting, we will consider acting ourselves.”
Sullenger was the complainant in a high-profile case against Dr. Shelly Sella of New Mexico, whose patient, also from New York, allegedly had to be rushed to a hospital after suffering a ruptured uterus during the controversial procedure. On Thursday, the New Mexico Medical Board exonerated Sella of gross negligence.
In that case, the woman had sought the abortion after finding out the fetus had severe brain abnormalities. Sullenger and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said the Maryland case is more egregious, in large part because it resulted in Morbelli’s death. They also claimed the doctor in Maryland, LeRoy Carhart, left town shortly after completing the abortion last week and was not reachable when Morbelli needed emergency care.
Meanwhile, local abortion-rights activists defend the necessity of late-term abortions.
Catherine Lederer-Plaskett of Choice Matters, a Westchester abortions-rights advocacy group, said that legal actions such as the one being considered by Operation Rescue fail to take into account the risks of any surgery.
“It’s malicious and wrong to say that the doctor was at fault or the woman was at fault because there was a terrible outcome,” she said. “You wouldn’t do that with a death from any other surgery.”
Morbelli, a substitute teacher at the Church Street School in White Plains, N.Y., was 33 weeks pregnant when the multiday procedure was performed, Sullenger and Newman said. She began experiencing problems at her hotel late Wednesday, with shortness of breath and chest pains.
About 5 a.m. Thursday, Morbelli was taken to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, where she died later in the morning.
“We are not casting any judgment on this young lady or her family,” Newman said. “Our problem is with the predator. LeRoy Carhart has killed before. We make it our business to track this man’s misdoings.”
The Operation Rescue officials said their information is based on sources at the hospital and activists who were protesting at the clinic when Carhart allegedly left Wednesday afternoon with a suitcase.
But much of the information, circulated widely online, has not been confirmed by authorities in Maryland.
Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the medical examiner, said the office has yet to determine the cause and manner of death.
Police investigators said they are awaiting findings from the medical examiner before considering a criminal investigation.
The Washington Post reports that the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality is investigating the death and that more than 150 demonstrators gathered near the clinic Monday to draw attention to the case and denounce Carhart, the clinic’s leader.
Late-term abortions are rare and done only when there is something seriously wrong with the mother or fetus, Lederer-Plaskett said.
“When this is done, it’s necessary for the health of the mother,” she said. “We can’t outlaw this or criminalize doctors who provide this care.”
Carhart, 69, of Nebraska, is one of just four doctors in the United States known to provide late-term abortions and has been a major target of the anti-abortion movement for years. He and Sella were both former colleagues of Kansas doctor George Tiller, who was shot and killed in 2009 while attending church.
Published reports said Carhart ceased performing the procedures in his home state after the state legislature in 2010 banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
News surrounding Morelli’s death has sparked an online firestorm in anti-abortion circles.
Kathy Morbelli, the dead woman’s mother-in-law, told The Journal News that she is extremely upset with the rhetoric coming from abortion opponents, saying this was a “wanted baby.”
She pleaded for privacy as the family mourns the death of her daughter-in-law.
A funeral Mass will be held Wednesday at the Holy Name of Jesus Church in New Rochelle.
Source: USA Today